February 19, 2015 - 11:37 AM
PENTICTON - The more things change, the more they remain the same.
That adage proves to be applicable to the City of Penticton’s most recent efforts at downtown revitalization.
The subject is particularly pertinent this week as B.C. celebrates Heritage Week, with the theme "Main Street: At the Heart of the Community".
Penticton historian Randy Manuel recently unearthed an old newspaper story about Penticton’s last downtown revitalization, which took place in 1979. It appears many of the reasons and arguments for revitalization remain largely unchanged thirty years later.
The 1979 newspaper article, taken from the Tri-Lake Recorder in March of 1979, headlined “200, 300 and 400 Blocks Revitalized Downtown” noted the cooperative efforts of various governments and downtown merchants for the revitalization, calling it “an excellent example of cooperation within the community and a vital rejuvenation of the downtown area”. The revitalization would “provide better traffic flow, greater pedestrian safety, more pleasant shopping and better parking”.
Thirty years ago the project was described as necessary because the streets and sidewalks were "simply worn out". Even so, there was active resistance to overcome, requiring at least 50 meetings over a two year period before there was an agreement. Revitalization was largely the work of the Downtown Business Association, who had to convince 66 per cent of businesses and 70 per cent of the area’s assessed value the work was worthwhile before proceeding.
The scope of the 1979 project included converting Main Street to one-way, three lane traffic, planters on the street as long as 30 feet in length and a wide range of tree species to be planted. The plan also called for wider sidewalks and crosswalks done in interlocking decorative blocks, the relocation of existing lamp standards in addition to new decorative ornamental lighting. Gold coloured paving stones were to be used.
“The debate over changing the downtown core hasn’t really changed in 35 years,” said Manuel, who remembers the lengthy planter boxes eventually being removed because streakers used to hide behind them.
“One of the challenges, then as now, was that of absentee landlords,” said Manuel. “Many property owners who lease their buildings don’t want taxes increased for beautification reasons.”
The 1979 newspaper article also printed an artist’s rendition of what Penticton’s downtown might look like in the year 2000. The viewpoint was taken at the corner of Wade and Main Street, portraying a pedestrian mall on Main Street from Wade Avenue south, with a Gastown-like clock tower dominating the intersection. Main Street consisted of a curving walkway lined with trees. All the storefronts were similarly decorated, with the same striped awnings, while through traffic proceeded east - west along Wade Avenue.
Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit sees downtown as a gathering place for the community. He said the downtown core could be used as a gauge, indicating the health and economic vibrancy of the city.
“Downtown revitalization will enhance the pedestrian experience with wider sidewalks and more street life. The Gyro Park area will see an upgrade that will create better functionality and programming opportunities,” he said in an email, adding the community was very supportive and vocal over the issue of improving downtown.
“It continues to be a council strategic priority,” he said.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015