The city appears to be getting a mixed message about what it is merchants on Bernard Avenue want when it comes to the proposed timing of a plan to revitalize Kelowna’s main downtown street.
Following an open house where the city presented four timing scenarios and saw dozens of people, mainly downtown merchants, pass through, Kelowna’s design and construction services director Bill Berry said a majority appeared to favour his department’s preferred schedule.
That would see work start in the fall of 2012 and then take a break over the winter, restart in the spring of 2013, shut down over the summer months and be completed in the fall of 2013.
Berry said that schedule was put together after meetings with merchants were held, and the city was told business owners didn’t want construction ongoing during their busy, revenue-producing summer months.
But Michael Neill, owner of Mosaic Books, showed up at the open house armed with a petition calling for the work to be fast-tracked by doing it in one straight go, working through the fall and winter of 2012 and the spring of 2013. The petition included the signatures of 100 area merchants.
The winter work scenario was one of the four presented at the open house. The city says its consultant on the Bernard revitilization project, PCL Construction, has estimated working over the winter and around the clock to speed up completion would add an estimated $6.7 million to the $14.6 million budget.
While some merchants have disputed that figure, those at the open house could provide a different figure to cover the added cost of working through the winter. The city says while it could be a mild winter, it has to plan for a worst-case weather scenario in order to be prepared.
Berry conceded that while a majority at the open house supported the city staff’s preferred scenario, there was support expressed for the winter work proposal as well.
The city has said the challenges of doing the work in the winter include finding construction crews who are used to winter work, dealing with the challenges of snow, freezing temperatures and the effects of both on the work, such as the laying of concrete and asphalt, as well as the variables of weather, and additional costs.
But Neil said for the merchants, getting the work done as quickly as possible is crucial, as it will help some businesses on the street survive the construction process.
He said a prolonged street closure could cost him his business as he relies on pedestrian traffic.
He added that every time another business closes on Bernard, it affects him because there are fewer shoppers in the area.
Neill said the choice of a winter work schedule was difficult for him as he does 25 per cent of his business in November and December. But he said he also does 25 per cent of his business in the summer months.
“I’m looking at a rock and a hard place,” he said.
For other merchants, the decision is equally difficult.
Rod Reinbold, owner of X10sion 207 clothing store at the foot of Bernard, said none of the proposed scenarios were acceptable to him.
“In all these scenarios, I will lose money,” he said.
Another merchant, Rosemarie Gottschlage, who runs a bridal and special occasion boutique in the 500-block of Bernard, said her busiest time is from January to June, while from September to December business for her is normally slow.
She said all four proposed timing options would adversely affect her business.
In addition to the preferred timing plan and the winter work schedule, the two other construction scenarios presented were working straight through the summer in 2013 and one that has now been ruled out—four three month work periods with the first in the spring of 2012, the second in the fall of 2012, the third in the spring of 2013 and the fourth in the fall of 2013.
The city says it can’t be ready in time to start major work on Bernard by next spring.
The proposed revitalization of Bernard would see the repair and replacement of utilities and other services under the road and a revamp and beautification of the streetscape above ground, including sidewalks twice as wide as the current ones.
A majority of merchants are in favour contributing 25 per cent of the cost of the beautification work. That amount is equal to about 10 per cent of the entire $14 .6, million initial budget, said Berry.
With a spring start off the table, city staff will take a week or two to finalize a recommendation to council.
They will be on hand, however, to answer questions from council about the open house at council’s next meeting, scheduled for Monday afternoon.
Staff were originally scheduled to make a recommendation about timing of the work at Monday’s meeting.