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Martin Street at heart of plans for Penticton's downtown

Downtown revitalization is one of the main priorities Penticton city council has set for itself, but it has been overshadowed recently by the drive to get work started on the Lakeshore project going before the start of the tourist season.

But that doesn’t mean that the Downtown Revitalization Select Committee has been idle. Planning has already begun on the project to convert the Ellis Street bus barn into a year-round public market, and now they have revealed their plans to upgrade the 200 block of Martin Street and a neighbouring portion of Westminster Avenue as part of a downtown entertainment area.

More than half the budget for the project, estimated at $912,000, will be spent on Martin Street. That choice was a controversial one for council, and Coun. John Vassilaki left no doubt as to his feelings that spending $685,000 on the street was not the best use of tax dollars.

“I’ve been against it right from day one. I think it is the wrong place to spend over a half a million dollars that can be put into better use on Main Street or maybe do a better job on the market building on Ellis Street,” said Vassilaki. “There is going to be very few people walking around in this area. I would spend the money where you have more people moving around and doing things.”

Vassilaki wasn’t the only councillor to question the project. Coun. Wes Hopkin wasn’t sure if the return from Martin Street would be enough to justify the expenditure.

The plan for Martin Street would see the sidewalks upgraded to brick cobbles — similar to other areas of downtown — along with new benches and other decorative touches. Similar work will be done along Westminster Avenue, but Winnipeg Street was removed from the plans — it is also earmarked for a bike lane, and the downtown committee elected to wait until that project was also ready.

But Martin Street will also have the added touch of being redesigned to include “flex space.”

That’s what the city is calling a new street design that would modify the parking lanes to also be usable as sidewalk area. The current curb will be replaced with a rolled curb bordering the traffic lane and bollards would be used to mark the pedestrian area.

“You can either use that space for parking, or you simply pick up the bollard and you drop it in adjacent to the curb,” said director of operations Mitch Moroziuk. “That area then becomes usable for the sidewalk area and businesses on either side could spill out into that space.”

Coun. Judy Sentes, one of the council representatives on the downtown committee, argued that beginning with Martin Street was a better idea.

“We are all desirous of Main Street and would love it to be our priority, but it will take time to advance it to the point of action. Traffic flow is just one of the issues,” she said.

Committee chair Barb Haynes said there are several reasons to go with Martin Street. Besides providing a template for the larger project, there are motivated owners along Martin.

“If we could do Main Street within a couple of months to get that conversation going, I think that would have been a consideration,” said Haynes, pointing out that the upgrades could bring increased traffic to Martin Street. “When you have motivated property owners that want to partner with you, who are saying up front they are interested in the consideration of moving their block forward, the financial partnership is also attractive.”

 

With only five council members present, the plan was approved with a 4-1 vote, with Vassilaki voting against. Work is expected to begin on the upgrades in the fall.

 

 

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