After a few small businesses said the City of Kelowna should take on a bigger role in helping local businesses strive downtown, the city responded, saying there has been over $100 million in development.
Moreover, the city has paid close attention to developing the tech sector by doing work with the Innovation Centre, among additional initiatives such as Metabridge festival, revitalization projects, focus groups and—perhaps most importantly—work being done through the Central Okanagan Development Commission, which Kelowna is a primary financial contributor of, according to Robert Fine, director of business and entrepreneurial development.
“(My job) is ensuring that there is a business lens in discussions about issues here,” Fine said.
The issues that small businesses had ranged from construction, parking, chain restaurants and major events in the downtown core causing small businesses to see a drop in clientele and thus, revenue.
“There’s significant investment that the city does in the urban centre,” said city manager Doug Gilchrist of the City of Kelowna. “(We need to) keep infrastructure well maintained and we (do so) with an eye for businesses.”
A fair portion of the quoted $100 million was spent during Bernard Avenue’s revitalization project that was completed in May, 2014. The project lasted 21 months and—if comparing those two years of intense construction to the development that is happening in Kelowna right now—some city officials would say the final product is worth the current austerity.
During the Bernard revitalization, Fine said the businesses that lined the avenue had “amazing entrepreneurs that dug in” during the intense period of construction, noting he understands development is tough for everyone.
“The process (is made to) create as little impact as we can,” Fine said. “The happy days are at the end of it.”
But for Luke Allcock, longtime bartender at Doc Willoughby’s Public House, the Bernard Avenue project didn’t do much to help their restaurant besides, “adding more issues to the parking problem.”
“I don’t have any examples of the City of Kelowna doing anything to help businesses in any way shape or form,” he said.
Danielle Cross, owner of Buvez, has been particularly more outspoken about her dissatisfaction with the city’s attempts to encourage small businesses.
“It smelt terribly and it was jackhammer central,” Cross said of construction at Chapman Parkade. “Why are you doing (construction) in July?”
Fine couldn’t answer precisely why construction happens when it does, as it is a multi-disciplinary decision, but said it has much to do with weather and availability of crews.
However, part of the process for the city is to keep up with the pace of development and growth the region is experiencing. Fine said that internally, the city has adopted a “streamline (system) for approvals to processes,” such as zoning and other municipal commercial regulations.
In 2016, council endorsed the Civic Precinct Plan, which was made to “guide the long-term redevelopment of key sites in the area and determines key public investment priorities in the downtown.”
The plan devolved the community for advice on how the city could best develop downtown through community workshops, face-to-face meetings, online tools and other forms of engagement.
Gilchrist raised this plan as another example of how the city is supporting downtown businesses.
“They just don’t understand how something like (construction) can really affect a business,” Cross said. “Especially a business whose margin is three to nine per cent.”