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'Lack of leadership' led Charlottetown council to vote down Sydney Street request: Kevin Murphy

Kevin Murphy, CEO of the Murphy Hospitality Group, said he and other restaurant/bar owners wanted to turn a portion of Sydney Street into a pedestrian-only area. However, the request was denied by Charlottetown council earlier this month.
Kevin Murphy, CEO of the Murphy Hospitality Group, said he and other restaurant/bar owners wanted to turn a portion of Sydney Street into a pedestrian-only area. However, the request was denied by Charlottetown council earlier this month.

The CEO of the Murphy Hospitality Group is questioning the leadership on Charlottetown council after it turned down a request to turn a portion of Sydney Street into a pedestrian walkway.

Kevin Murphy said he is very disappointed that council went against the wishes of restaurant and bar owners in a vote held at a special meeting on July 2.

“It’s unfortunate; it’s a lack of leadership (on council),’’ Murphy said this past Monday.

He said all five restaurants/bars on Sydney Street — Olde Dublin Pub, Claddaugh Oyster House, Brickhouse, Gahan House and Sim’s Restaurant — were in agreement on putting up a barrier at the pub to block through traffic and restricting movement to pedestrians only down to Queen Street.

Murphy said it would not have impacted the parking spots on the south side of the street and it wouldn’t have blocked off entrances to businesses and parking lots on the north side.

Murphy added that none of the businesses planned on extending patio decks out onto the street.

The city, however, has some concerns related to safety and the width of the street for emergency response vehicles.

Mayor Philip Brown said there are a myriad of issues to consider and multiple meetings at the city staff level to discuss them. There are fire safety concerns, such as the fact that there are 17 propane tanks along such a narrow street. Also, if the city is to allow a barrier to block off traffic at the Olde Dublin Pub from continuing to Queen Street, what about the parking lots on Sydney Street? While access wouldn’t be blocked, Brown points out that Sydney Street is a one-way street going towards Queen Street and any traffic exiting from those lots would have to drive against the current one-way traffic on Sydney.

City staff also issued a series of recommendations, one of which was if this plan were to go ahead, the whole street should be blocked off.

“I know Kevin is frustrated and I can appreciate the feelings of all of the business owners, but there are a lot of issues to deal with here,’’ Brown said, adding that council just recently passed a bylaw amendment allowing businesses to create temporary outdoor patios to create more space for customers.

Murphy said they had a fire safety expert from Fredericton, N.B., look at that aspect of things and found no issues, pointing out that the width of the street would be the same if the city were to allow a pedestrian-only zone as it is now.

“(The city’s) argument makes no sense,’’ Murphy said, adding that it’s a hypocritical decision considering that Victoria Row operates as a pedestrian-only zone a block away. “There was never an issue of getting a (fire) truck up (Sydney Street). We have a different interpretation and we have had a professional look at it. It’s unfortunate that they don’t see that this (would) attract business to the downtown district.’’

Murphy said the lack of tourism traffic has meant business is down at restaurants in the downtown core by 60 per cent. The plan with the pedestrian zone was to provide more outdoor music and establish “a vibe’’.

“It’s devastating,’’ Murphy said of the effect the pandemic has had on downtown businesses.

“We have what we have in the downtown because businesses are doing stuff. That makes it the place what it is. It spawns other stuff. It’s when government interferes that it hinders our evolution. City (council) should be championing this rather than putting up roadblocks.’’

Brown also points out that the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation has a request for proposals out to look at the entire historic area — from Province House and Confederation Centre of the Arts down to Queen Street — so this discussion will form part of a visioning exercise.

Murphy said businesses on Sydney Street are merely looking for something to help them out during the pandemic crisis.

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