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Free downtown parking pondered

Kelowna council is considering free parking downtown in a bid to ease the strain some businesses expect to feel during the major road work planed for Bernard Avenue next year.

In accepting a recommendation that the road work be done in three major phases—fall 2012, and spring and fall 2013—council also instructed staff to look at the potential impact of allowing free parking downtown during the construction.

“There’s going to be pain (to businesses in the area as a result of the road work),” said Coun. Andre Blanleil.

“It’s how you’re going to manage the pain that’s the issue.”

Blanleil suggested the free parking plan, saying while there will be a short-term cost to city parking revenues as a result, overall it will be a win for the city’s downtown core.

“Whatever we can do to keep people coming downtown will be a win,” he said.

And he found plenty of support among his council colleagues.

Coun. Michele Rule cautioned the free parking should be for customers, not employees of downtown business or construction crews.

Rule agreed with the city’s general manager of community sustainability that it is important there be parking turnover to make spaces available for shoppers.

Despite earlier indications from city staff that they planned to wait a week before making a recommendation about a timing schedule for the Bernard Avenue work to council, community services general manager John Vos presented a report asking council to approve the work schedule at Monday’s meeting.

Now that the schedule has been approved, staff will immediately start work to find a design consultant.

The $14 million project will replace utilities and services under the street and beautify the above ground streetscape.

Local merchants have agreed to pay for 25 per cent of the streetscape work, estimated to be about $1.5 million.

In accepting what staff described as their “preferred” work schedule, council rejected the option of starting in the fall of 2012 and working straight through the winter and spring of 2013, at a possible cost of nearly $21 million.

The city says the extra cost of winter work and running crews at night would add $6.9 million to the cost of the project unless the weather was mild through the winter months of 2012 and early 2013.

But that schedule was supported by 100 people who signed a petition circulated by Michael Neill, owner of Mosaic Books.

He, like several others who turned out for an open house on possible timing options for the project last week, recognize there will be financial pain for businesses in the area during the construction, and wants the work done as quickly as possible to minimize the adverse effects.

Project staff said that in an earlier meeting it held with merchants, there was clear consensus that the businesses did not want work to be ongoing during the summer months as that was their biggest revenue generating time and that request would be honoured.

Vos said as the end of each phase of the work, the street would be left in usable condition, likely with an initial layer of asphalt  on top.

No schedule of which blocks and when they will be worked on has been established yet.

In the end, Coun. Luke Stack appeared to sum up the feeling of most on council when he said the winter work scheduled was rejected because city taxpayers would not be happy if it added $6 million to cost of project.

As part of its plan, the city has also said it will put together an extensive communication strategy to keep the public and area merchants fully and constantly aware of what is happening during construction in order to show that downtown will remain open for business.

 

awaters@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

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