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BIA proposes installation of 300-metre zip line above downtown walkway

Kajahni Tharmarajan | Fulcrum Staff

Photo by Justin Labelle

OTTAWA’S NORMALLY QUIET and picturesque landscape may be in for a wild new rejuvenation, courtesy of the Sparks Street business improvement area (BIA).

Sparks Street has always been a key cultural spot for a slew of events and festivals, including the annual Ribfest and Buskerfest, but these events only manage to catch the attention of crowds in infrequent doses. Sparks Street BIA executive director Les Gagne hopes to liven up the social potential of the pedestrian street and make it a more permanent tourist attraction by installing a 300-metre zip line.

The zip line would allow people to soar above Sparks Street either from Metcalfe to O’Connor or from O’Connor to Bank.

“The nice thing about this operation is that we’re looking to have it go over a functioning street. It adds to the excitement and the thrill of it,” Gagne told the Ottawa Citizen.

So what does this mean for students? Well, being a short 10-minute bus ride or 20-minute walk from the university, the zip line would certainly make for a fun place to visit on long breaks or after classes. The Rideau Centre and even the ByWard Market may get tedious after several trips, and gliding through the air enjoying a unique view of the city could become a new way to spice up student life.

“Totally cool. I would so do that,” said second-year U of O communications student Vanessa Grant. “Don’t they have that in Vegas?”

Indeed, the project was inspired by the successful zip line installation at the Fremont Street pedestrian mall in Las Vegas. Gagne hopes to enlist the same engineering company, Flightlinez, to initiate a similar aerial adventure, bringing the pizzazz of Sin City to the heart of downtown Ottawa.

“If it’s safe, by all means why not?” said third-year biochemistry student Bahareh Manesh. “I’m not sure of how crowded it’s going to get, though. It could be kind of cool. It will be next to the school, so after shopping at Rideau, I suppose I could go zip lining.”

The project is still in preliminary stages of planning and production. Barring all construction challenges and legal issues, the zip line may be installed as early as May.

“It’s a great idea. I’d be one of the first ones there,” said third-year business finance student Felix Drouin.

The zip line would serve as an after-work, after-school attraction that would buzz into action after 4 p.m. The project is estimated to cost between $3 million and $5 million. How much it’ll cost users per ride is still unknown.

Meanwhile, Gagne hopes to elevate the cultural vibrancy of Sparks Street by hosting a farmers’ market and artists’ village in the outdoor mall. Prior to those events, Sparks Street will add to the Winterlude festivities by hosting a craft beer festival. Gagne’s new initiatives arrive on the heels of the successful New Year’s Eve celebration, which drew 20,000 people to the Times Square-themed party on Sparks Street. Gagne also wants to repaint the area to give it some more colour and animation.

“Our whole concept is getting social on Sparks Street,” he told the Citizen.

Not everyone has high spirits for the makeover, though.

“A zip line seems like a wildly extravagant, nonsensical tourist attraction in an age of sensory overstimulation,” said fourth-year psychology student Trevor Lubin. “I’m unconvinced that out-of-towners playing action hero make-believe is the best way to generate interest in Ottawa.”

Lubin is not alone in his skepticism.

“It’s too risky,” said fourth-year English student Austin Webster. “It’s like opening a roller coaster. They’re trying to pull people out of the Market.”

Whether the proposed zip line will turn out to be Ottawa’s newest sensation or just a ludicrous spectacle, one thing is for sure: come summer, people will definitely be looking up.

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