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Developing a strategy to make Penticton's core vibrant

Over the next few years, you’re likely to hear the words “vibrant Penticton” mentioned a lot.

They are the keywords and the driving vision for the city committee beginning to develop a new, three-year strategic plan for the revitalization of Penticton’s downtown and the new name they have given to the plan.

“We’re starting off with Vibrant Penticton. This is a brand you are going to here frequently over the next three years,” said Barb Haynes, who co-chairs the committee with architect Nick Bevanda. “It is our hope that you, city council and the community at large will embrace the process of planning a downtown where the heartbeat pulses with energy and vigour and the community relies on its downtown as a vital component.”

Engaging the whole community, Haynes said, is key to making this plan a success.

“A strong, vibrant downtown is to the benefit of the community,” said Bevanda.

It’s not the first time the city has tried to develop such a plan. But Coun. John Vassilaki, one of the council representatives on the committee, feels this group has the vision needed to bring a workable plan into existence.

“I’ve been here for ten years now, and we have tried this twice before. And it has failed twice before,” said Vassilaki. “The reason it failed was there was no communication between the city and those that are going to be paying and using our downtown.”

Haynes said that communicating and involving the public will be a big part of developing a revitalization plan, which they expect will cost $267,000 to develop. The rest of 2012, she said, is scheduled to be a year of planning that includes a great deal of community engagement and discussion.

The planning process is broken down into seven phases, including the visioning process underway now through to the actual development of the plan in the fall. The final stage, implementing the plan, is expected to begin in January 2013.

Along the way, though, the committee promises an extensive amount of public engagement in the process, utilizing both traditional methods like open houses, opinion surveys and information booths as well as some that are less traditional to this kind of process. That includes options like social media, text message surveys and even an alternative transportation scavenger hunt. Participants in the scavenger hunt will use bikes, skateboards, buses, wheelchairs and other modes of transportation to travel throughout the downtown. With cellphones, cameras, verbal and written feedback, their thoughts on the walkability and ease of getting around will be incorporated into the transportation planning process.

Haynes expects open houses and other events will begin in April. While supporting the overall plan, Ashton was concerned whether the committee was incorporating work done during previous planning attempts.

“There has been a lot accumulated in the past, and if that can come forward, that’s great,” said Ashton. Bevanda, who was part of previous downtown planning efforts, said they planned to incorporate material already collected, especially during the “Learning” phase of the process, where they will be collecting information from as many sources as possible.

Coun. Andrew Jakubeit was encouraged both by the wide scope of the plan and the amount of community involvement expected, something he said was a key factor missing from previous attempts.

“I think finally there is some political will and now we need to have community will. In the past I think it was developed in house,” said Jakubeit. “They [the public] didn’t have the opportunity to engage and have that collaborative process take place so it was something they could buy into.”

“The whole downtown is for the whole community, not just those that live, work or have their business in the downtown,” said Vassilaki. “It will take the whole community to make this thing work properly.”

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