Planners focused on the riverfront’s future

The city’s riverfront is going to change in the next few years. The broad question is, how?

To that end, the City this week launched phase one of its Waterfront Design Plan. Public consultation began last night at Station Mall and resumed again last night at the downtown plaza. “The Waterfront Design Plan is an actionable roadmap guiding future development, infrastructure investments, and public realm enhancements. It aims to support tourism, stimulate economic development, says Travis Anderson, Director of Tourism and Community Development, “and elevate the existing waterfront into a world-class destination, firmly establishing Sault Ste. Marie on the global map.”

It’s a plan that, when completed, will encompass short-term and long-term elements. Phase one is about gathering ideas toward creating a vision for the riverfront, from the International Bridge in the west to the old hospital sites to the east.

“It’s about making a connection between our downtown and our waterfront,” says Salvatore Marchese, Junior Planner with the City of Sault Ste. Marie. “I think it’s important that everybody weighs in on this. It’s going to change the city and the landscape for our future and the next generation’s future.”

Residents unable to attend either of the two pop-up events this week are encouraged to check out the visioning survey, an easy find at

“There’s a lot going on down here,” says Nicholas Dykstra, Senior Urban Designer 02 Planning and Design, with a directing nod to the several skaters and folks milling about the plaza Thursday evening. “There’s kind of a proof of concept here (at the plaza) that there needs to be more urban format things to do downtown.”

Unlike some municipalities, says Dykstra, the Sault’s riverfront is large, which presents both challenges and opportunities.

From left, Salvatore Marchese, City of Sault Ste. Marie Junior Planner, and Nicholas Dykstra, Senior Urban Designer, 02 Planning and Design.

“It’s a lot space, so the main goal is to make the whole, a legible thing, Not a series of disconnected things.”

That requires kind of a disciplined vision that is really careful about learning as much about site, what people want and what’s going on.

What’s working and what’s not? In order to do that, we need to hear from as many people as possible.”
When the dust settles, no one believes it will be a ‘paved paradise’, as referenced by Joni Mitchell in her hit Big Yellow Taxi, all those years ago. Not even close. Creative and appropriate use of space will be vital. Dykstra points to mixed housing and retail, with a unified look and feel.

“Plus improved open spaces and roads,” he says. Oh, sure, there will be some pavement. But nothing specific – at this point – has been decided.

The future is pretty much wide open to ideas, ones that the City, its planners and consultants ultimately hope to pull together into a single vision that covers a lot of bases, making it attractive, vibrant, practical and connected.

It’s why planners are anxious to hear the ideas of residents. “We generally in these types of projects create a comprehensive vision that is quite bold and quite long term, but there’s always a kind of easy-to-tackle shopping list of the first moves,” says Dykstra. “Right now, we’re just trying to capture the elements of the vision.”

The final plan will reach far into the future, but Dykstra says there are early ins to be had from the outset.
“Talking with some of the stakeholders today there are things we can expect to happen in the next one to three years. There will be ways of implementing the vision. Even though the vision spans kilometers and has a whole long-term set of large, bold ideas, the change can happen really quickly. We want to make sure those first actions resonate with people.”

Phase one will wrap up in January.

Phase two is slotted for January to March 2024, and will be centred on design concepts that energy out of the first phase. Phase three will soon follow with a final Waterfront Design Plan. The community will be invited to provide input through all three phases.


  • Ron Jokelainen

    Ron has returned to writing and reporting after 27 years with Ontario Lottery & Gaming. He began as a staff writer with OLG in 1994 before moving to Sports Marketing in 1997. He retired as a Senior sports analyst in 2021. Prior to OLG, Ron worked in radio and print journalism in the Sault and Simcoe. Folks may remember Ron "Williams" with CFYN-CHAS in the early 90s A graduate of Windsor's St. Clair College Journalism program, Ron lists drumming, gardening and walking among his favourite hobbies.

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