Penticton council spars over cost of downtown revitalization

Politicians wary about spending another $65,000 to consult with public and business owners

It might be the next logical step to take in the downtown revitalization plan, but some Penticton city councillors are concerned about how much it will cost just to get ready to give Main Street a makeover.

Anthony Haddad, the city’s director of planning services, laid out a proposal showing $585,000 in consultation and planning over 2014 to come up with a finished design for the 100 to 700 blocks of Main St.

That includes $65,000 for more consultation with the public and property owners, $125,000 to design and engineer the proposed parks at either end, and $400,000 for the redesign of the street.

Much of that money will be spent before the process gets to the stage of getting property owners along the street to support a 25 per cent contribution via a local area improvement tax, or agreement from the voters to borrow the remaining funds.

“We have done quite a bit of work already, we’ve got lots of sketches, we’ve had so much input, wouldn’t it be smart to go and see if we can start that LAI process before we spend $400,000 on the complete design?” asked Coun. Helena Konanz, who was also concerned about spending more on consultation.

The city has already done so much of that, she said, with a charrette, surveys, booths at the Saturday markets and other events.

“I can’t imagine we need to spend $65,000 more to find out what the property owners and the public owners want along Main Street,” said Konanz.

Coun. John Vassilaki, one of the longest serving councillors, noted he has been through this process before, only to see the plan fail. Those attempts to revitalize Main Street have already cost the city large sums, according to Vassilaki, who didn’t want to see that kind of loss happen again.

“We’re going to be spending close to $700,000, which is considerably more money. Back then, the cost of doing Main Street was $7 million, now it is going to be even more than that,” he said. “I am not against the project, I think it is perfect for our downtown. We have to be very cautious because of the amount of money that has to be spent.”

Haddad explained the design work needs to be done in order to have an accurate cost estimate to take to the landowners and discuss the contribution process.

“We can’t turn up with a plan we thought was appropriate without going and asking them first what was the best solution to their needs as a business owner,” he said.

Haddad explained the investment in Main Street would provide a significant return to the city.

The downtown core population is about 6,500 people, accounting for 20 per cent on Penticton’s population, plus about 3,000 people employed in the downtown area.

That means, according to Haddad, that any money spent enhancing downtown will have a significant impact. He added that on top of the population, the downtown core is the centre of tourism activity. “It’s important to invest in our centrepiece,” he said.“Each of the steps requires significant public consultation, even more detailed than we got into during the downtown planning process.”

Council will consider the proposal as part of the upcoming 2014 budget process. If the planning process is successful, work on the actual street improvements would begin in 2015 and, according to Haddad, could be funded from a variety of sources, including capital funds, grants, the landowner contribution or a borrowing bylaw.