Waters: The changing face of downtown

Kelowna's downtown is finally getting the attention it deserves, not the piecemeal approach to improvements of the past.

The changing face of downtown will change some more starting next week, as the second phase of revitalizing Bernard Avenue gets under way and work starts on construction of a new public pier and day-use marina.

For years Kelowna City Hall faced the accusation that not enough had been in the downtown core to make it a fitting showcase for the city.

But it would appear the powers that be are making up for lost time.

Starting with the former council, and continued by the current group of incumbents, a great deal of attention is being paid to the area generally considered to be the “heart” of the city.

While taxpayers are footing the $14.5 million bill to fix up Bernard Avenue above and below the surface —with some help from Bernard Avenue merchants—they have also been asked to spend another $15 million to build a new parkade and add to the one already located beside the library. SOme of that money will come back in parking-generated revenue. But the key is  private money is also at play. It will be used to pay for several planned developments and a company eying a hotel at the corner of Queensway and Abbott is shelling out the $5 million it will cost to build the pier and day-use marina off Kerry Park.

After years of planning, and watching many of its downtown plans gather dust on the shelf, the city is finally moving ahead with a vision for the downtown that most seem ready to get behind.

And that can only be good for Kelowna.

While other areas of the city, such as South Pandosy and even Rutland—long considered the forgotten child of Kelowna civic spending—have already seen investment and revitalization efforts, downtown stagnated up until a few years ago.

But projects like the opening of Jim Stuart Park, the start of the Bernard Avenue revitalization, a new downtown plan, finalizing the deal for the pier, moving of the Water Street Seniors Centre to a new building at the Parkinson Recreation Centre to allow relocation of the Kelowna Yacht Club and plans for several commercial and residential developments in the area have all provided the impetus to resuscitate the aforementioned heart of the city.

But, as someone once said, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The work being done now will not only take a while to be complete, it will also take a while to  propergate the changes the city so desperately hopes they will bring about.

But the fact work is actually being done is something to applaud.

For too many years the grand plans for a better downtown were just that—plans.

But this time it appears to be different. This time the plans are becoming reality.

And, in some cases, results are already being seen.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.