If a portion of Vernon’s main street downtown is to be closed off again in 2022, more notice and more consultation with businesses will be required.
Council unanimously voted Monday, Nov. 22, in favour of directing staff to consult with the Downtown Vernon Association (DVA) and businesses in the 2900 block of 30th Avenue to identify a plan and required resources for another potential closure in the summer of 2022. An update on the consultations will be expected in the first three months of 2022.
The block was closed for 63 days – July 1 to Sept. 7, 2021 – as a pilot project initiated by council to enhance the downtown experience by creating a temporary, vibrant, usable and welcoming public space for area businesses to utilize and community members to use. The closure was coordinated by several city departments in collaboration with the DVA.
Management of the space, which included daily cleaning and hiring and scheduling musical entertainment, fell to the DVA.
“As a pilot project, this year’s closure faced extraordinary challenges that made it difficult to properly gauge the benefits of the closure,” city economic development and tourism manager John Perrott said in a report to council.
The challenges included short notice for businesses and the DVA of the closure which limited the opportunity for planning and ordering supplies to create an outdoor space for their clients, the record-setting high temperatures during the ‘heat dome’ at the start of the project, poor air quality due to forest fire activity in the region for most of the summer, limited availability of staff for restaurants and evolving COVID-19 public health guidelines.
Perrott said many businesses were generally positive about the block closure, but felt the short notice, combined with the heat and smoky skies, provided limited chances to utilize the closure for their businesses.
Coun. Kari Gares said it’s imperative the city hold more consultation and do it sooner than later.
“I am optimistic if we do this early enough that the outcome might be different, especially with the businesses wanting to be more of a participant as opposed to doing a petition saying ‘no, no, no,’” said Gares. “I’m grateful from that ‘perfect storm’ we experienced, we’ve learned some lessons on that and I think that’s going to help us manoeuvre the potential closure for next year a little bit better.”
The DVA staff completed a survey and post-closure report for its board of directors but the results were not yet available to the city at the time of Perrott’s report.