A Kamloops councillor cautioned against the “hot button” issue of development in Riverside Park on Tuesday as civic leaders met to discuss the future of the city’s downtown.
Topics discussed included families, transportation, accessibility, crime, parking and waterfront development. Kamloops Coun. Bill Sarai brought up the latter, noting waterfront infill similar to that in other communities has been missing in the River city for more than two decades.
Calling it a “hot-button” issue, Count. Arjun Singh urged caution when it comes to anything that may be perceived as commercializing Riverside Park.
In the past, residents opposed building a parkade at the park and residents have reorganized against a proposed public market in the parking lot in front of Heritage House.
Overall, a number of short- to long-term projects are identified in the draft plan to make downtown vibrant, connected and welcoming, including parklets (street platforms with benches or otherwise used as public space), reviewing traffic flow on Seymour Street, the Fourth Avenue plaza project (piloted last summer and up for review in the new year) and a performing arts centre.
Currently up for discussion in the community, a PAC is described in the plan as a “catalyst” that could help transform downtown.
Asked of the project’s significance, city planning manager Jason Locke told KTW after the meeting it would be an important building block.
“It definitely is something that could help as a key amenity in the downtown,” Locke said. “It could help absolutely improve and enhance the downtown.”
All of the ideas in the draft plan are just that — ideas which may guide staff in the future but depend on further council approval for considerations like funding.
Some of the ideas also rely on private developers.
Asked if identifying desirable locations, such as the parking lot next to the Plaza Hotel for a public square, puts the city in a precarious negotiating position down the road, Locke told KTW it doesn’t because the redevelopment opportunity has always existed.
Coun. Kathy Sinclair also wondered about that proposed plaza location during council deliberations, specifically linked to crime.
Locke said design principles to reduce crime are taken into consideration, but added more people living and working downtown would also mean more eyes on the street, helping to quell such issues.
“If criminal activity is happening, we have a process in place to take care of that,” Locke said.
Meanwhile, councillors Dale Bass and Mike O’Reilly were concerned children and families were left out, without mention of walking to child care centres and a future school.
Council heard the school district has prioritized new facilities in Aberdeen and Pineview ahead of downtown.
“To me, it’s just something missing,” O’Reilly said.
Councillors Sadie Hunter and Singh, meanwhile, pushed for stronger language in the plan linked to their respective causes (accessibility and climate action) while the issue of parking was delayed — at least for now, as the city continues to work on a separate downtown transportation strategy.
Mayor Ken Christian, meanwhile, cautioned against ideas unrealistic in Kamloops, such as outdoor public spaces that would only operate for six months of the year. He noted below freezing temperatures on Tuesday.
“I’m wondering if this is going to add a bit of cosmopolitan flair that’s not necessarily going to work in Kamloops,” Christian said.
Consulting KCBIA next step
With council comments in hand, staff will next consult with the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association to discuss the future of downtown.
KCBIA executive director Carl DeSantis called the draft plan “very exciting” and said his organization has been involved as a stakeholder since the beginning and touted the city’s engagement process.
“You look at the initiatives, the recommendations that have been proposed, they’re going to enhance the downtown in many regards,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to see rising tides, a perfect storm. Everything’s going to be rising at the same time: densification, new businesses, entertainment. It’s going to create a walkable, vibrant, exciting downtown.”
DeSantis said getting more people and entertainment in the city’s core will attract diverse businesses and professionals.
He called the potential performing arts centre a project that “has to happen.”
“We have to stop saying no to opportunities like this, economic development opportunities like the PAC are far-reaching,” he said.
A date for staff to take the draft to go back to the public has not yet been set.
Staff will take the draft plan back to the public at a date yet to be determined for more feedback, prior to council adopting the plan likely before the end of the year. Next year, city planners will update the North Shore plan.