Seeking a shared vision for downtown’s future

Scroll back just over a decade to when Kelowna’s last downtown plan was pieced together, and the small city was on the precipice of big changes.

Scroll back just over a decade to when Kelowna’s last downtown plan was pieced together, and the small city was on the precipice of big changes.

Single family houses and strip malls dominated a landscape that still reflected its agricultural roots, while the downtown’s Delta Grand Hotel, along with its two neighbouring towers, offered the first signs of investment in a previously development-free area.

While the soon-to-be retired road map that accompanied city planners through those years achieved many of its goals, boom times vastly changed the needs and landscape of the area, making a fresh take all the more necessary.

“Now we need a new downtown plan, with policy and infrastructure planning,” said Mayor Sharon Shepherd as she opened a Tuesday evening design session that called for the public’s input.

“There’s no shortage of ideas or issues, the challenging part is coming up with a shared vision.”

For two nights straight, even during a much lamented Stanley Cup game, around 40 Kelowna residents chosen to take part in a charette process did what they could to meet that mandate.

In tables of eight they hashed out conflicting visions.

“From the get go, people were throwing out words, putting together a word bank and then they started working on a map of the downtown—it looked like real fun,” said Nick Desert of Begrand Fast Design Inc. on Lawrence Avenue.

Desert headed to the charette to watch the teams work, and despite not being able to participate, he liked that many involved were making suggestions they thought would create activity in the city’s core—something he, like everyone else, had a few ideas about.

“I’m very opinionated on this matter,” said the former Londoner. “I think we can have something more like Gastown here. We can have high rises that have character, and then set them further back from the lake.”

Ideally, he said, the buildings could be terraced, with a height of no more than three or four storeys at the lakefront. Then, as they move out, buildings could go higher.

Results of the charette process won’t be made clear until a Saturday open house, but the city’s project manager, Andrew Gibbs, said there were four clear objectives. “One, maintaining focus on the waterfront,” he said. “People want more activity on the waterfront.”

They also expressed concern about the entry point to the downtown, from Harvey Avenue, so ideas on how to deviate traffic from the highway into the city’s core were offered.

“Third is in the pedestrian realm,” said Gibbs. “They want to bring more pedestrian circulation and access to the downtown.”

In that case, the suggestion had to do with breaking up some of the long blocks, that don’t necessarily lead to leisurely strolls in the downtown.

“The idea was to penetrate those long blocks with walking corridors,” said Gibbs.

As well, Gibbs said building heights were discussed. “That was not resolved, but everyone wants more people downtown, which means more people living downtown as well,” he said. “(They discussed) increased density and height, and where and how to do that.”

Consensus was to step back from the lake, with height, and to protect Bernard Avenue.

To get a full rundown of the charette, an open house will take place at Kerry Park on Saturday, June 11, from 3 to 7 p.m. Residents are invited to drop by and comment on the plan before it is presented to council on Monday, June 27.

Residents can share their vision and see what others are saying by visiting the city’s blog, or subscribing to e-updates at


Kelowna Capital News