Members of the downtown business community met last week to discuss their ideas for the $2.7-million downtown renovation project, which will see a complete repave of Main Street, widened sidewalks and many aesthetic improvements.
Town of Westlock CAO Darrell Garceau led the Wednesday, Oct. 19 meeting, which proposed a complete revamp of Main Street, from Highway 18 north to 107th Street.
“We need to re-energize the community because the downtown core is the heart of the community and it’s important,” Garceau said. “We need to, once again, put some energy back into the downtown core.”
Some of the proposed improvements shown in the rendered video played for attendees included repaving Main Street, widening sidewalks, using brick work on sidewalks and crosswalks, having benches on street corners and switching from angle parking to parallel parking.
Some business owners expressed concern from moving from angle parking to parallel parking, as it would reduce the amount of parking stalls in front of businesses, although some business owners said it would benefit downtown shops.
“If you have all your parking in from of your business, (customers will) run in then run out,” said Tom Vesely, owner of Sobeys and chairman of community economic development. “Now, you have the ability to have traffic that you might not necessarily see in front of your business.”
Garceau said it would decrease the amount of stalls by roughly 12 per cent, eliminating somewhere around 12 or 14 parking stalls, but there is potential of developing town-owned land into a parking lot, just north of the downtown core.
Another suggestion thrown out by business owners was to move towards a one-way Main Street, which would allow for angle parking on either side, without compromising on the widened sidewalks and aesthetic features like benches and light standards.
The total cost of the project is estimated at around $2.7 million, according to Garceau. He said the town has found ways to fund it, including Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) funds from the Government of Alberta. Each year, Westlock is given $1.3 million as part of the MSI.
“We spent pretty much the last few years putting all of our grant contributions towards the construction of the Spirit Centre,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean we put the community at risk, we just invested in a wonderful project so now we get to, in 2012, re-invest in other components of the community.”
“I don’t understand why we’d want to spend that kind of money on things like this, when there’s no money to pave the streets,” said Todd Arth from Arth’s Fashion Centre. “The streets look absolutely horrible on Main Street.”
He also voiced frustration over the way snowfalls were dealt with last winter, adding that it took roughly five days before Main Street was cleared by plows.
Garceau said that the last two years have been extremely difficult for the roads, causing many main roadways to deteriorate. He added that the proposed plans work to address this and said steps have already been taken to ensure snow removal is handled in a more effective manner.
“Don’t spend the hundreds of thousands or millions or whatever it takes to make it look beautiful, let’s just improve what we’ve got,” he said. “Making it look all pretty and all that stuff there, with the park benches for all the crack addicts to sit on at night time doesn’t do it for me.”
Another topic of concern for some business owners was a piece of legislation called the Local Improvement Levy, which is a 70-30 cost-sharing ratio between business owners and the community at large, said Garceau. Several business owners expressed interest in having the cost of the project shared entirely by the community at large, since it is a benefit to Westlock as a whole.
“When people walk downtown, they don’t walk downtown to enjoy it,” said Tina Wold, owner of The Flower Shoppe. “I truly believe that the downtown core has to change. If that’s not going to change, you might as well forget about a downtown core. There is no other business that is going to move into that area.”
She said that by improving the downtown core, more people will spend time there and more businesses will move in, which will help to address the problem with building vacancy.
“There are some business owners downtown that do not want to see progress and do not want to see change,” Vesely said. “Maybe it’s time that they start thinking about an exit strategy. They complain that there’s no value in their business, well, maybe it’s time to re-invest in your business or get out because we are moving forward as a community and if we don’t, we’re going to be boarded up.”
Most businesses owners in attendance were in favour of the proposal and want to see action, with all in agreement that council should “borrow and go” to get the project completed in 2012, in time for the 2013 Alberta 55 Plus Summer Games.
At the meeting, Garceau also proposed the idea that the current SAAN Store location be turned into the Town Office, which would facilitate a community-gathering place at the north end of Main Street. This is merely an idea, as the town does not yet own the land, but it was a concept many supported at the meeting.
Security in the downtown core was a minor issue discussed at the meeting. To address this concern, Garceau said the town is looking into having a representative from K-Division come to educate business owners on effective security.
“We might have less theft, less broken windows if we have people downtown,” Wold said.