Now is the time to set downtown revitalization as a priority, Coun. Rick Orr told his fellow elected officials during Monday’s city council meeting.
“Council, is it your political will?” he asked, capping off a presentation outlining the importance of the city’s downtown core.
Reflecting on his presentation the following day, Orr said that it came as a result of a realization that the city’s downtown core has long since fallen by the wayside.
“We have a downtown that is sitting here and is totally underutilized,” he said.
“In my review we don’t even have it on our strategic planning. That is the biggest shock to me when I came to council.”
The downtown area’s ripe for revitalization, he said. There’s plenty of city-owned land, the proper zoning’s already in place and there’s rich culture to build from, with three historic prime minsters, a historically significant river and a cache of historic buildings.
“It’s amazing to me that we have the most wonderful views of a forest across the river, or a small hamlet like Hazeldell, and we have no real economic interest in it!” Orr said in a baffled tone.
Only guaranteed four years on council, Orr said that he looks forward to helping initiate some significant improvements to the city’s downtown core.
“My job as councillor, I think, is to motivate -- to push a little, and I’m not scared to do that,” he said. “If I can’t motivate people to get moving, I don’t think I’ve done my job.”
A gathering place
Although the city has been long referred to as the gateway to the north, for many people, it’s a gateway to the south.
Prince Albert certainly has its fair share of visitors from the north, Orr said.
“When you come from a northern community, what do you do? You gather. So, that is what I’m sold on -- is that we need to make our downtown the gathering place.”
Downtown, as it is today, is mainly geared toward attracting people in the daytime. Although this benefits those able to come during the day, including the approximately 3,000 people who work downtown, what about the nighttime? Orr asked.
“In other communities they want to come after work,” he said. “They want a place to come and do things as a family.”
In my review we don’t even have it on our strategic planning. That is the biggest shock to me when I came to council. - Coun. Rick Orr, on the city's downtown core
Events, such as the street fairs, Taste of P.A. and other events that took place downtown last summer are an important part of the equation, he said, with the Rawlinson Centre is another excellent draw for the city’s downtown core.
Parking meter revenue
“Many downtown businesses want us to use some parking surpluses to support renewal, since it’s money realized from proceeds of customers using downtown services,” Orr said.
In 2012, after making loan payments on the new parking meters, the city pulled in about $328,000.
This is about $77,000 more than the expected surplus, Orr said, noting that such funding can serve as a starting point for council to begin investing in downtown.
Council support required
The first step toward downtown improvement is buy-in from city council, Orr said, which will represent about a third of the equation. The remaining buy-in will need to come from stakeholders, including property and business owners.
So far, Orr said it’s clear that the city has not been as involved as he’d like to see.
“In the last snow fall it was almost a week before it was attended to (downtown),” he said, noting that the city’s downtown core is a priority three snow removal area.
Due to a seeming lack of interest from the city, he said that stakeholders are losing motivation.
A role model in B.C.
Serving as a centrepiece for Orr’s presentation to council was Penticton, B.C., which he said is indicative of what Prince Albert can achieve.
Boasting a strong downtown revitalization plan, the city of about 33,000 people is making positive headway in attracting people downtown, he told council.
“They have commitment from council, property owners, businesses and administration,” he said. “You see, Penticton gets it. I believe Prince Albert has not.”
Tomorrow’s Daily Herald will include a report on the efforts to improve Penticton’s downtown core and why Orr cites it as a good example for Prince Albert city council to follow.