First-term Kelowna city councillor Ryan Donn has received a lot of invitations to events, tours and speaking engagements since he was elected to council in 2014.
But when he received an invite from the Kelowna RCMP to take a night-time tour of downtown Kelowna’s entertainment district, he jumped at the chance to see first-hand the state of Kelowna’s nightlife.
“It was fascinating,” said Donn, who went on the tour with a staff member from the City of Kelowna’s planning department.
“People are just out there trying to have a good time and it’s our job to make sure there is structure,” Donn said.
“I had zero concerns about our youth and young people when it came to the nightlife. It was folks out having a good time. The role we play is a safe ride home.
“Are we encouraging the province to look at things like taxi licenses and Uber? We just want people to have a good night and to get a safe ride home,” Donn said.
He, and planner Ryan Smith, took to the streets of Kelowna with their RCMP escort to see what happens on a regular weekend night in Kelowna.
From the Cactus Club to BNA to the nightclubs on Leon and Lawrence avenues, Donn and Smith toured close to a dozen establishments.
Donn said it was a positive experience that shined the light on a few issues, both positive and negative.
“It was busy,” he said of his four-hour club-hopping trek. “Over the course of four hours you saw at least a couple thousand people at various establishments.
“We’re all about a vibrant downtown and what that looks like and to see a couple thousand people coming and going, you see there is a lot of people downtown.”
Donn said one of his big takeaways from the night was the establishments’ use of a patron identification system that sees bars and pubs scanning a person’s driver’s license and taking their photo as they enter the bar.
If the person is a trouble-maker a note can be put on their file so that they can’t simply hop to another place and cause more trouble.
The system was put in place by an association of bar owners known as The Standard, which is working together on issues surrounding late night establishments.
Donn said he was told the system has made bars much safer.
“If you go back a few years, if someone gets in a fight at one bar, they just go to another place,” said Donn.
“Now the venues are communicating with each other. It has had a dramatic reduction in the fights that have happened.
“Essentially you can identify those that are causing the fights. The system is making it safer.”
Having a safe downtown and a vibrant nightlife is key to maintaining and growing Kelowna as a destination for tourists, said Smith, Kelowna’s community planning manager. He said the downtown is actually much safer than many residents might think.
“When people talk about downtown not being safe, downtown gets less safe when less people go there,” Smith said.
“If everyday people stay away, that just leaves more space for the druggies and criminals. If more people spent more time in Kelowna’s urban centres, we would have less crime. Downtown is probably a much safer place than the average person thinks—the more eyes down there the better.”
As far as city planning goes, Smith said it’s important for the city to understand the nightlife situation downtown as the city continues to grow and push for more population density in its downtown core.
He said there is a trend to more establishments offering a variety of entertainment downtown that is making it a more vibrant scene and helping to make Kelowna a place people want to come to.
Smith said the city needs to find a balance between people that live downtown and folks that head downtown for late-night entertainment.
“The planning department needs to be out in front of that if there are going to be more people living down there,” he said.
“I think we’re seeing some very good things happening downtown with the rise of restaurant/pubs like BNA or Curious.
“They’re not focused on getting teenagers boozed up and pushing them out on the streets.
“They’re more focused on the customer experience, serving food later and more of a social environment.”
Both Donn and Smith pointed to the need for more options for safe rides home, especially when bars are closing between 2 and 4 a.m.