Downtown is focal point of mayoral debate

Mayoral hopeful Walter Gray had praise for at least one council initiative Wednesday.

He may be campaigning on a platform that accuses the current Kelowna city council of being indecisive, but mayoral hopeful Walter Gray had praise for at least one council initiative Wednesday.

During a lunch-hour all-candidates meeting sponsored by the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Gray, a former mayor of the city, called the current council’s decision to revamp the aging main street downtown, Bernard Avenue, “one of the greatest decision’s ever made in Kelowna.”

His description of the $14-million project, set to start in the fall of 2012 and continue in the spring and fall of 2013, came during a question about what he would do as mayor to help development downtown.

The question was posed by saying nothing had changed downtown in 10 years, something that did not sit well with Gray’s opponent, incumbent mayor Sharon Shepherd.

“I get discouraged when I hear nothing has been done downtown in 10 years” she said noting the emergence of the Cultural District, improvements along Ellis Street, the creation of Jim Stuart Park and plans to expand the park when the Kelowna Yacht Club moves to the space currently held by the downtown seniors’ centre on the lake shore, which in turn is being relocated to Parkinson Recreation Centre.

Both Shepherd and Gray said they believe the downtown has a lot of potential, with Gray calling it the “heart of the city.”

But Gray said it needs “densification” in order to not only bring more life to the area, but also help improve its safety by having more people out and about in the evenings. And his criticism was not just reserved for the existing council.

“I’m disappointed that good activities have come here and have been cancelled. I feel there is not enough passion (for the events) at city hall,” he said.

Another candidate in the race for mayor, Cal Condy, pointed to the rejection of the controversial CD-21 zone which would have seen private sector redevelopment of a large area of the downtown waterfront as part of the problem.

He said the public was kept out of the picture for too long and that hurt the chance of getting public support.

“City hall needs to be more open to public suggestions,” he said.

The forum addressed several issues including homelessness, transportation and environmental issues.

There was general agreement among the candidates that housing is critical to helping improve the quality of life for many of the less fortunate in the city, and the water and air quality are the top environmental concerns facing the city.

Condy, who choked up when he spoke about the need for more affordable housing to get people off the streets, said there is no need in this town for people to be left out in the cold.

On transportation, Gray said there is a need to identify corridors for a second crossing and when it is built, it will take truck traffic off the existing Bennett Bridge and that will help alleviate current problems.

But, he cautioned, that is still many years away hence the need for a long-term vision.

Both Gray and Shepherd referred to a longer-term vision for the city as more than just the next three-year council term.

Chung, who described himself as “an ordinary guy,” said he was running for mayor because city hall needs a “fresh, new change.”

He said he has ideas about affordable housing and protection of the lake but wants to hear from the public about what it wants to see done.

Talk of water quality also seemed to stir Condy. He declared protection of the lake to be his top priority and vowed to fight any attempt to develop land along Cedar Avenue if he is elected mayor. “Over my dead body,” he said.