The digging has started on Bernard Avenue.
The city’s $14 million revitalization and rehabilitation of Kelowna’s main downtown street kicked off Wednesday with local politicians delivering speeches and posing by a large earth moving machine.
And then they got out of the way to let the work crews that will dig up the the road and replace utilities under the ground during the next 18 months, get on with their jobs.
The bulk of the work will be carried out in three phases — this fall, next spring and in the fall of 2013, with finishing work taking place in the spring of 2014.
“This is an opportunity to revive what (downtown) Kelowna is,” said Mayor Walter Gray at the ceremonial ground-breaking.
He said when the work is complete, Bernard Avenue will be much more pedestrian-oriented and the city will send a “subliminal” message with the new look that cars are not as welcome as they once were.
But, he quickly added, the city is also planning two new parkades downtown as part of future developments.
Throughout the event Wednesday morning, Gray and his son, Dallas, who is the current president of the Downtown Kelowna Association, stressed that despite the fact vehicles cannot drive on Bernard between Richter and Ellis Streets, businesses are in the area still open to pedestrian traffic.
“We are encouraging people to come down, bring their families, shop, enjoy the restaurants and even watch the work,” said Dallas Gray.
And, he added that while some merchants in the area are worried about the impact the road work will have on their businesses, said measures are being taken to help them.
In addition to the city having a liaison officer in place to deal directly with merchants concerns and “block captains” at business in the work zones to act as the eyes and ears of the DKA during the project, a promotional campaign is also underway to attract shoppers.
Entry forms will be available at Bernard Avenue business that will give the public a chance to win 500 “downtown” dollars, good at stores in the work zone. A draw will be made every two weeks the prizes during the work periods.
“Downtown is open for business but there will be some short-term pain for long-term gain,” said the mayor, adding he feels the community will rally to help downtown merchants by shopping in the area during the work.
The mayor said part of the new streetscape plan for Bernard calls for a new archway at Richter Street. But artist’s rendition shows what city offcials are calling a “gateway”, large wooden poles on each side on the road for several metres and banners flying from them. City officials say there is no plan to build an arch over the street.
In addition to the city’s money for the project, local merchants are contributing to the cost of the streetscape plan to beautify Bernard, with ornate lights, benches, wider sidewalks and other cosmetic improvements.