Waters: Downtown Kelowna back in the spotlight

With ongoing work and proposed projects slated for downtown, an area once seen as neglected by the city is back in the limelight.

For years critics complained about a lack of attention focused on downtown Kelowna.

Well, that can’t be said now. Downtown development has grabbed the local spotlight of late, with at least three projects—one underway and two proposed—at the forefront of city plans. But, as is usual when it comes to development in this city, finding consensus on any project appears virtually impossible.

Arguments over how the city should dig up its main downtown street—Bernard Avenue—raged prior to that project getting underway last month, and now that it is underway, many merchants are justifiably concerned about their businesses surviving to see completion of the project in the spring of 2014.

While everyone seems to agree it’s needed, now that the work is underway there’s still substantial disagreement about how it should proceed. At which end of the road should the work have started? How long should it take? Should the city have paid more to work through the winter to speed up completion?

And now new, project-related questions have popped up. Like, are the faces used in city advertisements on the worksite fences really representative of the local population? And, is the city doing enough to let the public know businesses are open to foot traffic during the construction?

But while Bernard Avenue is the most visible construction project in the city, it is not the only downtown project garnering attention.

The plan to build a new, multi-storey parkade beside Memorial Arena for a proposed new office building to house Interior Health workers across the street has also gained its fair share of attention lately.

While the office tower has largely been welcomed because of the estimated 1,000 new workers it will bring into the downtown core, some feel it is slated for the wrong place at the corner of Doyle Avenue and St. Paul Street. But that’s where the city has land to sell. And the proceeds from that sale will help pay for the new parkade.

The city says the parkade is critical to the office tower going ahead and will help provide more parking for everyone downtown. But critics complain it is slated for land covered by the Kelowna Sawmill Community Trust—referred to by some as the Simpson Covenant—and as such should not be used. They say it encourages cars at a time when the city is trying to discourage car use. But the proposal calls construction of a parkade on what is now a parking lot.

The argument has been made in recent years that the real commercial

centre of the city is now the area around Orchard Park Shopping Centre, not downtown. But given the interest in downtown development, it appears downtown is still alive and well.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.