KELOWNA – Those concerned a new design plan would turn downtown's City Park into a paved paradise can breathe a sigh of relief.
With public outcry mounting over the past few months, city councillors set the record straight yesterday: They have no agenda to replace green space with parking and roadways. While most councillors agree the park needs a visitors' centre, it won't measure up to the deluxe office building initially drafted.
Mayor Walter Gray emphasized the conceptual drawings unveiled in June are part of an ongoing design process to gauge expectations of the public. Designs are still a long way from reality.
“There's absolutely no budget,” Gray says.
With no estimated cost or timeline, project manager Patrick McCormick says the design is really just a planning exercise that will help map out changes.
Councillors were most troubled by the public misconception City Park would lose its grassy, leisure space in exchange for new parking lots. Coun. Gail Given says they're not about to go digging up trees.
“People saw what was added but didn't see where concrete is going out,” she says.
In fact, the new plan eliminates the existing parking lots at the south end of the park, dispersing the stalls throughout the park and creating easier access for less mobile citizens.
Given also pointed out the impact of a new tourist information centre wouldn't be any greater than that of the previous pavillion building before it burned down in 2011. Relocating from their current building at 544 Harvey Avenue, Tourism Kelowna staff won't be needing a space much bigger than 6,000 square feet.
Whether Tourism Kelowna would operate out of a drive-up destination centre or a smaller scale kiosk is still up for discussion.
Coun. Robert Hobson questioned the need for tourist parking altogether.
“Create a small facility which is primarily pedestrian-oriented,” he suggests, and give drive-by tourists another location somewhere off the highway.
It's an idea the mayor is warming up to. With the option of parking along Abbott Street and Lawrence Avenue there's little need to build new stalls, Gray says.
“It's a tragedy to use parking in a park for people who aren't there for parked purposes.”
And while some councillors want to see just one road access instead of two, they agree improved traffic circulation would have spin-off benefits.
“It could and will be the catalyst to drive the redevelopment of that part of Lawrence and Leon avenue,” Gray says. Coun. Andre Blanleil also expects it will deter "unwanted" park users while drawing the bulk of visitors to its core.
A decision on the lawn bowling site is similarly years away. The club can try using that time to boost its membership if they want to continue bowling in the park, Gray says.
Despite the storm of anxiety brewing over the future of City Park, council is pleased to see people are tuning in. With 1,700 visits to its online forum, the City Park designs set a record for public engagement on a civic project.
And the City is all ears, Coun. Mohini Singh says.
“I hope the public has heard us all and gets the message we do care about what the public thinks - we do care about people's opinions,” she says.
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