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Downtown plan gets public input

Ken Flagel stands in front of the pictorial display of Grand Forks' downtown; Photo, Mona Mattei
Could the creation of a heritage revitalization program for the City of Grand Forks be the catalyst to economic development? A committee of local business owners thinks so.
 
On Wednesday, Oct. 5 the heritage committee rolled out their vision for the city’s downtown core. Overall, the plan reflects the recommendations in a report done by the Heritage Branch of B.C. after a workshop last February.
 
“You can’t just hope that somebody’s going to come here if you don’t make it attractive to them, something that makes them want to be here,” said Jon Olroyd one of the committee volunteers. “We’re asking you to support the heritage guidelines and that will bring dollars into your community and others to want to live here. Lifestyle is a huge component in seeking out new locations for business.”
 
The 165-page report from the province outlines design guidelines for historic downtown buildings, local government bylaws and actions that need to be in place to proceed, guidelines for public areas in the downtown core, and proposes the development of a business improvement area.
 
The area under consideration runs from 6 Street on the west side through to the east bridge and from 75 Avenue to the north, south to 72 Avenue along with the already established corridor on Highway #3.
 
Olroyd and Ken Flagel presented the committee’s work at Studio B. Walls were covered in photos of the downtown area giving a stunning visual display of the “look” of the area. From the photos it was easy to see the beautiful buildings and the “beasts” as well as areas that are just plain bland.
 
Olroyd repeatedly noted that the only way for the program to succeed is to create a standing committee under the city that establishes the guidelines and business incentives as well as assisting in decisions on development and renovation applications.
 
“There is seed money but we must be prepared to spend our own money on it,” agreed Peter Perepolkin, owner of two downtown businesses. “If we’re going to wait for grants, it’s not going to happen. To get things rolling, to get a spring board, we all have to be prepared.”
 
Most of the 25 people at the meeting gave clear support to the idea of a heritage downtown, but raised significant questions about the impact on their business and pocketbooks as a result.
 
A fiery discussion about being forced to renovate to meet the criteria, increased taxes when they do renovate and how to do it all when every business is struggling just to get by took place. A great deal of frustration was expressed about the lack of development done by the city.
 
Olroyd said the plan is to incorporate the design guidelines at the time of renovations only, not before, and agreed that the city needs to consider incentives for businesses to do improvements such as tax freezes.
 
“There are two theories about coming out of economic doldrums: one is that you starve yourself out of it by hoarding every last dollar you’ve got. The other one is that you spend your way out of recession,” said Olroyd. “You’ve got to step forward. If we all step forward together and revitalize the downtown step-by-step you’re going to feel the result of it.”
 
The guidelines will cover exterior alterations like signs, building colours, awnings, lighting, and building materials.
 
The process for the heritage program was initiated under the city’s economic development task force and carried forward by a group of business people: Brigitte Faramin, Flagel, Olroyd, Tom Lockwood and Donna Soviskov.
 
The committee is seeking support for their vision from the property owners in the city and will be taking their report forward to city council nextTuesday night.
 
They will be recommending that the guidelines of the program be adopted by council, that council create the required bylaw and an advisory design panel.

The visual display will be able to be viewed by the public from Tuesday, Oct. 11 through Tuesday, Oct. 18 at Studio B on 2 Street.