BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Where’s the vision

Columnist Richard Rolke believes Vernon city hall missed a key opportunity for downtown

Not all ideas for long-term planning come out of city hall.

Many of you will have read Sunday’s letter to the editor from Brad Foster. In it, the local resident suggested the City of Vernon purchase the former Bank of Montreal site on 30th Avenue and convert it into open public space.

“With tall shade trees, flower gardens, a waterfall, benches and a downtown map kiosk, I could imagine visitors driving into town on Highway 97, seeing this feature and wanting to stop and explore downtown to see what it has to offer,” he wrote.

Apparently Foster urged the city to buy the land two years ago when it became available, and I know of at least one other person who also made the same beautification pitch to the planning department.

Of course nothing was done and the 1960s glass and brick structure is being redeveloped privately (hopefully into something that will be more in keeping with downtown’s heritage theme).

But one has to wonder how much thought, if any, city hall gave to the proposal of establishing a park at Vernon’s most high-profile intersection?

Yes there would have been a cost for acquisition, demolition and landscaping, but consider the possibilities — a focal point for community gatherings, a place for downtown workers to enjoy a break and a permanent location for a Christmas tree during the holiday season.

Imagine the Downtown Vernon Association creating new experiences for residents because there would be sufficient greenspace to use. Among the prospects could have been a mini-haunted house for the Halloween Treat Trail.

More importantly, though, a 30th Avenue park would have highlighted downtown Vernon’s heritage, and particularly the adjacent Interior Gift Gallery and Lunch Matters Breakfast Too buildings. It would have also been a link between the various stages of city/merchant funded revitalization along main street.

Now it’s hard to know what factors would have played a role in the city not buying the land. Primarily, it could have been cost, but that doesn’t hold water when you consider the city’s track record.

In the last nine years, the city has acquired the Coldstream Hotel and two adjacent properties for $2.1 million, the Vernon Medical Clinic site for $1.4 million and the former Vernon Flower Shop for $315,000. On top of this, the city owns the Bennett lot on 29th Avenue while the Regional District of North Okanagan has title to the Toppers Cleaners property next to Cenotaph Park (purchased in 2008 for $330,000).

There has been no hesitation to snap up land with tax dollars, even though virtually all of them are used for nothing more than parking. Concepts exist, whether it is an art gallery or commercial/residential uses, but there is nothing to guarantee they will materialize any time soon.

But in the case of a park on the old Bank of Montreal site, there would have been a tangible sign of the public’s investment. It would have played an immediate and active role in adding much-needed vibrancy to the hub of the community.

Now as we all know, the property is being redeveloped and I wish the contractor and future occupants all of the success in the world. They are showing confidence in the economy of Vernon.

The bottom line, though, is the City of Vernon could have done something that would have had a lasting benefit for downtown and the community.

 

Let’s hope that as similar opportunities arise, the powers-that-be at city hall will show some vision instead of creating more parking lots.