BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Time for a new vision

Public market, new museum and public art gallery in the same location? Richard Rolke believes it could work...

They were put forward as separate ideas, but if brought together, there’s no end to where Vernon could go.

On Monday, economic development staff presented council with a feasibility study for a proposed public market downtown.

Just a few days earlier, Vernon’s mayoralty candidates pledged to develop new facilities for the museum and public art gallery.

The bureaucracy has been treating these as two distinct items, but one has to wonder why?

In many cases, those people who visit a town for cultural amenities will also  be attracted to the artisans and community atmosphere a market offers.

Imagine the museum and gallery hosting revolving exhibits amidst the vendors selling fruits and vegetables. Consider parents introducing their children to the opportunities that abound from garden to gallery.

A fusion of agriculture and culture could bolster the economy and become a significant anchor for a revitalized downtown core.

Everyone speaks of Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver or Pike Place Market in Seattle. Why couldn’t Vernon join the mix?

But the outstanding issue is one of land. Where could such a broad-based complex be located?

For me, the answer is obvious — the former Coldstream Hotel site.

The city initially purchased the sprawling site years ago for a cultural complex, but that plan fell by the wayside as some politicians moved towards a developer building commercial and residential space. However anyone who drives by the lot knows nothing has taken place and it’s not likely to given the high cost of land and the city’s financial demands for off-site services.

Instead of letting a multi-million-dollar land investment by taxpayers go to waste, dust off the portions of the cultural plan that are still applicable and where the document refers to a library, cross that out and add public market.

In supporting a public market Monday, Coun. Jack Gilroy said, “It has to go where people go. If you don’t have a flow of people, you are in serious trouble.”

Gilroy may not realize it, but he’s speaking of the Coldstream Hotel site.

It is kitty-corner from where the city is constructing a new transit terminus for the North Okanagan, while the land is conveniently located between 32nd and 27th streets, Vernon’s busiest roads.

Within a few blocks are restaurants and shops, and after spending time at the market or the gallery/museum, people could wander over to the new library or relax in Cenotaph or Justice parks. East Hill residents could also easily walk to the site to purchase fresh produce.

City officials have a preferred location for an art gallery and museum a block away from the Coldstream Hotel site, and while it would suffice, the location is small. There isn’t the space for a grand design that would meet a growing community’s long-term needs while creating a destination visitors don’t want to miss.

If Vernon taxpayers are to get the biggest bang for their buck, then there needs to be a revisioning of the Coldstream Hotel property. After all, isn’t foresight what the newly adopted city centre neighbourhood plan is all about?

Vernonites head off to the polls Saturday and there will be a new city council in place. By early next spring, there will also be a new chief administrative officer.

Now is the time to throw all existing plans for the downtown core, as well as cultural amenities, on the table and see if they are still relevant. Or, perhaps, a new concept will rise to the top and ignite the public imagination.

—Richard Rolke is the senior reporter for The Morning Star