Time is ripe for downtown overhaul

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The Win Your Space Yk contest was a fun and novel idea when launched last year but if the city is at all serious about bringing businesses back downtown a lot more needs to be done.

City council appeared to have taken a step toward that goal last fall after unanimously directing administration to develop a three-year action plan to revitalize downtown but we’ve seen this movie before. Council accepted a $175,000 report, albeit grudgingly, a month prior to the 2015 municipal election that called for an outdoor plaza on the 50/50 lot the city purchased in 2014 for $1.45 million. The plan was later amended to include a library and cultural centre.

Today the lot remains as it has since the early 1990s – a parking lot on what ought to be the choicest piece of real estate downtown.

Meanwhile, “streetscaping” plans for adjacent 50 Street, along the strip popularly known as “Range Street between Franklin Avenue and 51 Avenue, have been begged off for the past 10 years. Likewise, the other three lots the city purchased on 50 Street for $975,000 have found no purpose whatsoever.

This is hard work, no doubt, and much conspires against the city in its attempts to turn it all around.

Retailers, harassed by loiterers and competing with online competitors, have been fleeing downtown for years.

The upper level mall owners at Centre Square have been offering retail space for the city’s contest but the mall’s two absentee ownership groups have largely been unhelpful in the city’s downtown revitalization efforts. Their plans, which rarely show any degree of co-operation with each other, seem to hinge on keeping tourists away from loiterers in the upper level while also keeping a corridor open for customers buying coffee at Tim Hortons downstairs.

The mall is broken beyond that.

The city must put more pressure on the main players who own Centre Square Mall — Holloway Lodging Corporation Inc., in the upper level, Slate Retail REIT in the lower portion — to revitalize the place. Last year, Felix Seiler, the chief operating officer for Holloway, issued a cry for help via a letter to Mayor Mark Heyck, Premier Bob McLeod and MP Michael McLeod.

The letter, blaming homelessness in the city, complained of staff getting assaulted, spit on and swarmed.

It appears at least one of the mall owners has become tired of the mayhem and is looking for change. If Holloway really wants something done it should work with the city on developing revitalization plans for downtown, including the 50/50 lot and 50 Street.

Being an election year, downtown revitalization will surely once again be a campaign issue. It seems the time is ripe to finally do something about it. Otherwise, it’s just more hot air while downtown freezes in the dark.