The Redesign of Civic Square - Part 3 - how did council react ?

By Pepper Parr

July 4th, 2023


Part 3 of a 3 part article on the redevelopment of Civic Square

City Hall released a plan last week to redesign Civic Square.  The three parts are:

What was done before the plans that are now before the public?
What did the Staff report have to say in their report to Council ?.
And how did council react


The outline of the redevelopment of Civic Square. How the Queen’s Head pub (the yellow box inside the project limits) is going to be handled is a question that was never asked.

Councillor Nisan was first out of the gate with two important questions.
“Overall, I’m very, very pleased to see what’s coming forward; there’s a lot of emphasis on engagement and emphasis on design excellence. The look and feel of the location is sort of underpinning everything. We ensure that we don’t sort of build like a camel versus a horse here.

Becky Lewis, Senior Landscape Planner for the City of Burlington.

Becky Ellis:,   Senior Landscape Planner for the city explained: Design excellence is built into our goal. We have a team of internal and external consultants who are professionals and design experts. We can put your worries to rest – design excellence won’t be a major consideration for this project.

Nisan: “With that in mind. I didn’t see a mention there in terms of location being in front of like at the seat of low local government. Assume that’ll be part of it as well.

“My only other real question is? I thought we were going to look at doing a design competition for this area to get as many ideas from local and abroad. Now is that still a possibility or does the hiring of this team mean that they’re the ones who are designing? It wasn’t clear to me how that would play out. Is it possible to have a few different you know, really great. companies taking a look at this area ?

Ellis: “There will be no design competition held for this. We did have an RFP process that went through our standard procurement process. And city has selected a team of professionals that we feel are a great design team.

Ellis: “ I hope that answers your question.”

Nisan: Maybe there’s one follow up. . So why didn’t we do it? And what if the design doesn’t go the way we hoped it would?

The meeting went silent and someone asked “did someone else speak up? Or am I just hearing?

Ellis: “No, sorry to go back.. I’m sorry, Your questions are?: “ Why didn’t we do that? And I’m sorry, can you repeat the second question?

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan who lives in ward 2

Nisan: Why didn’t we do it? And what if the design doesn’t come out the way we hoped it will?

Ellis: “So in terms of why we didn’t do that? I’m not sure

Chair asks: I’m hoping I can look to maybe Alan or Tim, to comment on that first, and then I can I can move on to the second question.

Alan Magi: “I’m happy to weigh in on this. Is as Becky indicated, we did go through a robust process in selecting our consultants for this, as well as reporting back to council. That what we wanted – to ensure that we had early engagement with counsel as we’re doing the design, development, and to make sure we are all on the same page.

“Participating in that design work as it’s succeeding and not waiting until the final sort of completion of that; you’ll see it in the project schedule and engagement plan that we’ve built into the early part of the design development – so that there’s touchpoints, coming back to council. In addition to the broader engagement with the community, – we would do all that before we really embark on the final sort of detailed design and preparing the packages for tender.

City Manager Tim Commisso

City Manager Tim Commisso: “That is at the front end – allowing consultation with counsel at a couple of touch points – they’ll jump in. Through my many years; I have done a lot of projects and when you have a project that requires iterative design and extensive community consultation, a design competition tends not to work as well. Because you really are in a process of iteration.

“I can say that when we did the waterfront, 20 years ago, we put the new facility at Discovery Landing out for design competition. We had the land, we were looking for a design for that kind of facility and it worked well there.

“But I think that was a unique circumstance. I think in this case, it’s the evolving involvement in the design, through the entire process of engagement. That makes it a challenge to then put out to a design competition, because inherent within that process is designed and we’ve got to you know, very qualified firm firms, quite frankly, to do that. That’d be my thoughts on it.

Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith

Question from Councillor Galbraith: “ I recall this conversation back when we had the previous design of Civic Square and I actually liked it back then. This is obviously a much bigger project now including Elgin Street and other parts of it. So it’s a much bigger project. The financial impact talks about some of the government contributions, just wondering if we have a total cost of this entire project yet ?”

Ellis:  “We do not have a cost estimate yet because of course, we haven’t started design. We do have an understanding of what our financial commitment is through the ISEP funding. And we will be budgeting additional money for that phase of work that includes the Brant Street entrance to City Hall.

“Right now, the ISIP funding sits around in the $5 million mark, and we will be adding to that capital funding to that for the architectural changes.

Clock outside City Hall – it will probably be moved but will play a significant role in the look of a redeveloped. Civic Square.

Galbraith: ‘My one other question, was reading the engagement report? I know we’ve heard, and we’ve worked with our twin cities, in our Civic Square. I think the clock was donated by one of our Twin Cities, just wondering if that will form any part of the engagement. I know I’ve heard the mayor say several times, she’s learned a lot about our city, during visits to our other twin cities and their city halls. Just wondering if that is any part of the engagement thought at all.

Ellis: “Are you talking specifically of the clock? Or are you talking about engagement with our Twin Cities?

Galbraith: “Yeah, engagement with our Twin Cities, just, you know, maybe some research on what they have of our city over there and what we could incorporate in our Civic Square here of our Twin Cities. Appledoorn and Itabashi.

Ellis: “I think we can certainly explore some engagement or some outreach to representatives of the Twin Cities. We will note that Sheila (Spruce Labs) is also here on the line. I don’t know if she had anything to add, or if that’s just something that we can note for the engagement plan.

“I was just going to say thank you for bringing that up. I think that’s an excellent idea. And that we will definitely consider how to how to work together to bring that in.

The eight points that drive the thinking going into the redevelopment of Civic Square.

Question from Councillor Sherman: “This is a very robust design process, I’m really impressed with the degree of engagement to make this a place for gathering of human beings. That leads me to the question: to what degree have we addressed the question of place making? Are we satisfied that we’ve covered all the angles for this particular location? Would it be useful for other locations as we evolve the city, the community with different places such as this that we’d like to, to design in a similar fashion? How comprehensive of this I guess this question for Sheila?

Suggestion that the question be deferred because it goes beyond this scale of this project?

Ellis:  “Yeah, I think that’s fine. I guess I’m just looking for some clarity on your question. Are you asking if we believe we will be including other sites start? Can you clarify your question for me?

City Manager: “If I can interpret the question. I think the question is clear that this is a special place, right? This is, an investment where, you know, I think when I hear the budget, we can do and it already is a special place. The question is, is how do we ensure that place making design you know, that this becomes even more special is inherent within the design? And, you know, whether it’s principles of place making I know in the past, we have touched reached out, you know, project for public spaces, places, you know, organizations like that.

This is what makes the design approach an iterative one; every step taken is expected to inform the steps that follow.

“So, I’m just going to interpret Councillor Sherman’s comments as making sure that that inherent with that is really a strong foundation of place making. The only thing I was going to mention too, and it was just last month that we dealt with another special place. And that is the water feature. And also, you know, Discovery landing, which is also concurrently going to be renewed. And I think, you know, in the context of both of these going forward at the same time, and I’m not suggesting that, you know, that the sign will inform, but I do think that they have a similar element to people places, and really, you know, nailing down I think the next 20 to 30 years of having them become where the community just celebrates, and everybody is welcome. And so, I think, you know, I’m not the designer, I wish I was, but that’s not my, that’s not my background, but I love I love these kinds of projects. So I’m hoping I’m characterizing Councillor Sherman your views properly.

Alan Magi: “If I could add maybe just to that, I think in terms of the comments about seed government and remembering to and not that there’s an integration with the renovations that we’re doing to city hall right now, so that this will all tie together both for the streetscape from the end of the Elgin promenade that we have right now. And tying this all together, I think that this is all inherent as part of this project, making that sort of special place, recognizing that this is the focal point of government of the city as well as a public space for the citizens.

Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman: Looking for public art to be part of the redevelopment and wants to see the approach being taken with Civic Square as a template for other places in the city.

Sharman: “Thank you very much. I got the answer to my question. But it raises another question, which is whether or not we’ve involved the manager of arts and culture. In this particular design, we give we provide a $50,000 a year for arts and I think it could be triple that. And I think that I know that our manager of arts and culture has phenomenal training and experience in cultural training and cultural development. I’m just wondering if he has been involved in this discussion? And should be or not?

Ellis: “Yeah, oh, yeah. Through you chair. The project team and Angela have already had several meetings. And they are fully integrated into this process, there will be a public art component to this there is there is funding for public art. So beginning next year, there will be a solicitation for a public artist to integrate something really special into the design.

Question from Mayor Meed Ward. “Great suggestions and questions. Just wanting to ensure that we have the broadest possible scope for input and consideration of this project. “We’ve heard about features that would echo our Twin Cities, perhaps there’s community amenities. Indigenous consultation will be a part of that, maybe a fire pit. Making sure that there’s water sound, proper wiring for it to be an event space, flex streets for example. So those are just some of my ideas. And my question is, is all of that in scope? If we hear it from the community? If, if it seems like a good idea with our consultant that that could come back as part of this design?

A long pause.

Ellis: “Yes. So we have is as part of the process of obtaining the consultants there would be professionals on our team that could help us with all of those things that you mentioned. Those are all on the table and part of the scope of work for the project.

Mayor Meed Ward outside City Hall. The redevelopment of Civic Square – She loves it. It’s awesome.

Meed Ward: “I’m okay to move it and make some comments. I was hoping that would be the answer. And I will say that I agree that this is a robust process. I want to make sure that we have the broadest funnel to receive input from the community. Because this is a once in a generation, maybe once in a few generations opportunity.

“When Civic Square was last before Council, we paused it in part, because of our anxiety over were we thinking big enough and broad enough in scope. And we want it to be more than we’re gonna, you know, we might move a few flagpoles and fix the bricks, so it’s accessible and maybe plant a tree or two. I think we have a real opportunity to make this a destination community gathering space, and to Councillor Sherman’s point earlier, a new template for how we’re going to design our civic buildings.

“I’m very glad to see the roads in and around it as part of this, and the Elgin promenade piece, because that is an awkward section of Brant Street. This is a real opportunity to have a holistic design. And I think I think all of the things that we’ve talked about and that have been raised by my colleagues are really important considerations.

“I love the idea of consulting with our Twin Cities. This is just an incredible opportunity to land a magnificent design. So I look forward to the consultation.

Councillor Stolte: “My question is about flex streets. I know that we have been talking we’ve had significant conversation over the last few years in regards to that section of Brant Street and Elgin, particularly Brant Street from James south. I know that a big piece of it could extend so for the scope of this design, but just in keeping with this whole place making and tying it together and having a broad enough scope, is it possible to consider phasing this project, particularly the design part?

“I understand, Becky, that you mentioned right at the beginning of your presentation that the roadwork in front of Brant Street at the corner of James is going to be on hold due to the construction at the southeast corner of James and Brant; if that’s what I’m understanding correctly, that we’re not going to be going into construction on Brant street.

“I’m wondering if the design can possibly encompass that concept of potential pedestrian friendly open streets, shared streets, flex streets, even if it’s a phase two that doesn’t happen for a couple of years. I think the design needs to be considered broad enough that in the end, it’s all cohesive, and that we don’t do Civic Square, and then look at potential shared or flex streets on Brant Street, and but the design of Civic Square wasn’t necessarily built into that. So does that question make sense as far as understanding that the construction for Brant Street is not in the scope, but considering some high level design phase two, in case the community does go forward with wanting some sort of pedestrian shared fleck street on Brant and Elgin?

Commisso: “Your question is very pertinent. Scott Hamilton, Director of Engineering and Alan Magi have had that discussion about how this design informs the broader reconstruction of Brant Street. There is a lower and an upper Brant; we have our eye on the whole street.

Scott Hamilton: Director of Engineering

“ Scott should comment because I know he is very informed as to sort of our plans for reconstruction, going forward but the idea of how this design informs that particularly on lower brand street, I think is very appropriate question.

Scott Hamilton: “The intent is that we tie this all together. We’ve got a lot of development happening. As you mentioned, there’s the different parts of Brant and James where development is pending and then our streetscape guidelines would come into play. At complete streets and what have you in the area, the intent is that we can kind of pull it all together..

Councillor Sharman: “I didn’t really understand the conversations we were having a few years ago about what we were going to do to Civic Square – it was very confused. What you’re proposing now is not confusing. I support it completely. I think this is a wonderful opportunity in the context of the future of buildings and changing so dramatically, that we get to make the statement now.

“But that statement should represent what we want for the future of Burlington. And therefore, you know, I go back to my comments about culture, that we actually have to begin thinking about the culture we want for the community going forward. And that needs to be reflected in staff. But that’s a different conversation. Right now, we need to be talking about where we want our community to go.

Commisso: “When we had that discussion, four years ago, it was a constrained budget discussion. We were asking committee for more money ($1.1 million) to do a few more things.

“We’re talking a whole different discussion here. We move forward; this is really an opportunity to do something special.

The Mayor moves the motion:
Okay, but a great conversation. So before calling the vote anyone else like to comment? Note, we’ve exhausted the conversation. Thank you very much. So seeing no further comments, I’ll call the vote on item 4.1. Please raise your hand. All those in favour? Any opposed? And that carries?

The Motion was to Receive and file engineering services department report providing an update to the Civic Square and Brant Street renewal project.

Redesign of Civic Square – Part 1

Redesign of Civic Square Part 2

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