The future of downtown Nelson looks bright to Jamie Renney.
Renney, who took over the Dancing Bear Inn a year ago, was on hand Thursday at an open house to review the city’s downtown urban design strategy. She left the event excited by what she saw.
“I think it’s progressive,” said Renney.
“I think it’s something we have a chance to be involved in now and have a say as a community to maybe even just freshen it up a bit.”
The final draft of the plan to revitalize downtown was examined, scrutinized and debated in a packed room at the Adventure Hotel. Several city councillors and staff were made available to the attendees, which included plenty of business owners following an effort by the Chamber of Commerce to get stakeholders engaged in the consultation process.
Last May the city announced it had hired MVH Urban Planning and Design to put together the downtown’s first revitalization since the 1980s. Publicly attended design workshops were held last summer, and the final draft was unveiled in March.
“I’m a huge fan,” said Renney. “I’ve gone through most of it. I think the signage is really helpful, especially being a business owner. Even our guests who stay with us, just being able to say there’s signs on every street that tell you what’s on there instead of sandwich boards. Lighting, making it so inviting for pedestrians to even stroll at night because we have quite a big night culture.
“I think it’s super exciting. I’m really into it.”
Of course, not everyone was as enthusiastic. Attendees were asked to fill in comment cards for their opinions of plan, the finer points of which included new signage, pedestrian and bike lanes, re-designed amenity areas, patio space, public art, the moving of the transit station from Baker Street to Victoria Street, and a pedestrian scramble at Baker and the Ward intersection.
The plan is separate from the Hall Street project, which was finalized Monday by city council.
Brenton Raby owns a building downtown, and wants to open a cannabis store at some point. He said his priorities for the design included the introduction of public washrooms, reduced bulb-outs near liquor stores and the addition of Nelson-unique design elements.
“The city is going way out here in trying to get input,” said Raby. “Hopefully people feel involved [and] acknowledged in the process and see some elements that are dear to them come through. I think they are going to do it but in the end everybody sort of accepts what happens because it’s Nelson and everyone seems to be doing the best they can.”
Parking was a constant topic of discussion at the event.
The plan cites a 2013 study that suggests an additional 10 to 15 stalls can be added on Victoria Street and Baker is wide enough for more angled parking. It also mentions an inventory of street parking completed in 2016 showed 51 new spaces could be added to downtown by changing parallel spaces to angles.
Karen Pentecost, who works at Kootenay Dental Arts, said she thought the visual elements of the plan were good, but that it doesn’t do much to address traffic and parking.
“In my dreams I’d like to see the streetcar coming all the way up to Baker Street so people could park away from Baker Street and have an alternative transport method,” said Pentecost.
“Because in North America people want to be driven or park right where they are shopping, so I don’t know if that is addressed here at all. There’s some changes in parking but I don’t know if addresses the volume of parking.”
The plan will cost several million dollars if city council adopts it the entirety of it.
Although no total price tag is included, the plan does give estimates for cost per block. A typical block on Baker, accounting for paving, site furnishings and plantings, would cost $658,140. Another option costs $836,240, while what’s referred to as premium blocks around areas such as Ward and Baker would cost $1.1 million.
Justin Pelant, who owns Ted Allen’s Jewellery, said he didn’t think there had been enough public consultation. He also questioned if the investment needed was really worth it.
“I think a lot more thought needs to be put into it. I think there’s a lot more money going out that could possibly put Baker Street at a standstill.”
Funding and parking were the two main concerns councillor Michael Dailly said he heard at the event. Funding, he said, can be found via provincial and federal grants. He also added the project will still take plenty of time to move forward, and will feature another opportunity for public consultation.
Dailly added reserves exist from residential taxes to repair roads, so money can be redirected towards the Baker Street renovations on a block-by-block basis as repairs are required. He also said the city would rely on grants to cover the cost of infrastructure work.
“People are interested,” said Dailly. “We’re not that big of a town. We have one downtown, it’s not like we can have two or three that can accommodate everyone. So I’m thinking everyone wants it their way and the way they see it. We have one to share with everyone, so everyone’s putting in their 10 cents.”