To the editor:
It’s been just over a year since the Kelowna city council shocked their population by voting down the CD-21 downtown revitalization plan during a fourth and final reading, a reading that was supposed to be for ‘crossing final Ts and ‘dotting final I’s.’
The Westcorp developer who was going to put our city on the map, Phil Milroy, has gone home and taken his $2.5 million ‘R&D’ debt with him (serves him right for believing council was going to actually take the advice of their city staff, right?!).
The parting words of Mayor Sharon Shepherd from that historic night still resonate through our vacant downtown streets: “…there has to be a better plan out there.”
Let’s hope there is, in fact, a ‘better’ plan out there, or any plan. Spring is in the air and the hundreds of thousands of tourists who will drive into “the jewel of the B.C. Interior” from the west are going to be met with the holiday nightmare trifecta: Countless billboards blocking the initial view of Okanagan Lake, several boarded-up businesses directly downtown on Harvey Avenue, and dozens of “For Lease” signs blanketing our downtown core like wild mushrooms, representing the broken dreams of business owners who were counting on the kind of foot traffic who don’t ask you for spare change every time you need to step over them.
As a brief aside, I’ve been to hundreds of cities around the world and have never seen a boarded up McDonald’s, Burger King, Tim Horton’s, Husky, or Mac’s, let alone all five—that has to be some kind of record.
In any case, we do acknowledge the fact that discussions are about to take place regarding (re)vitalizing downtown with what to do, how to do it, who is to do it, when, etc, and that is something, albeit perhaps akin to taking the first step in the planning journey of 1,000 miles (when the city was already at mile 999 just 13 months ago).
Let’s just hope that the silent majority isn’t so silent this time, and that whatever plan is finally agreed on, it has the kind of scope and tenacity required to drastically increase the number of businesses and residents into the downtown core.
Skating rinks and angled parking are nice and all, but the state of our downtown core is a real problem that is going to take a real solution and a real commitment.