All of Vernon’s mayoralty candidates have pledged themselves to creating a strong and vibrant downtown core.
About 25 people attended a breakfast forum hosted by the Downtown Vernon Association Monday, with candidates Victor Cumming, Akbal Mund, Mary-Jo O’Keefe and Klaus Tribes present. Jamie Morrow was unavailable but submitted written responses to questions.
“My No. 1 priority as mayor is to be business friendly. We are open for business,” said Tribes, adding that there should be apartments and condominiums located downtown.
“People are looking for quality accommodations where they can walk to restaurants, boutiques and shops. Downtown needs built-in customers.”
Tribes says the mayor and council must be hands-on when it comes to development.
“What policies do we need to make it happen?”
O’Keefe says a number of steps have already been taken by the city, including a downtown revitalization plan and zoning that allows for housing.
“Let’s go out and attract business. I look forward to going out and selling Vernon,” she said, adding that barriers to operating business in the community must also be identified.
O’Keefe also wants to look at transportation methods like transit and cycling.
“The more we can make this a living space, people will come.”
Cumming says the city should be cautious about promoting residential housing immediately downtown.
“We have lots of residential uses within a block or two (of downtown). You do get those mixes,” he said, adding that the emphasis should be on high-tech entrepreneurs.
“We need to concentrate on office space. We need flexible space.”
In order for downtown to thrive and have population base to grow from, Mund insists specific sectors, such as high-tech, must be considered.
“Housing won’t solve it. It’s already around us,” he said.
“The future is in technical businesses. How do we keep youth here? Take the tech businesses out of the home and put them in a building downtown.”
Morrow, through a written response, believes that residents must be urged to shop local and to support downtown merchants.
“There has to be a diversity downtown to attract people,” he said, adding that he supports vertical growth.
“We need to build up with retail on the main floor, offices and then residences.”
The forum also focused on safety and parking concerns downtown.
“When you have more people, people feel safe,” said Morrow of the need for special events and active businesses.
Tribes is calling for police foot patrols to deal with crime and he wants a parking advisory committee established.
“The metered rates are outrageous and the fines need to be reviewed,” he said.
O’Keefe says events, such as the Friday market, help create a vitality and reduce criminal activity, while there should be free Saturday parking.
“There should be (parking) options that are close but are inexpensive.”
Like the others, Cumming also called for expanded activity downtown as a way of improving safety. With parking, he says there is a need for additional public awareness.
“There’s a real perception issue about parking. There are spaces that are relatively close,” he said.
Mund points out that crime issues generally arise at night.
“We need to concentrate on that time frame,” said Mund, who is also calling for free Saturday parking.
“Have a market on Saturdays when families can come downtown.”
There will be another opportunity for Vernon residents to hear directly from council hopefuls this week.
On Thursday, the Sustainable Environment Network Society will hold an environmental sustainability forum for Vernon mayor and councillor candidates at 7 p.m. at the Schubert Centre.