An extended patio program that created a boardwalk effect downtown and helped local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic will return next spring and restaurants may apply to adapt their patios for use this winter, enclosing them temporarily and heating the space.
“There are some positive things to come from this pandemic and this sidewalk program clearly is a positive thing that’s come from this pandemic,” Coun. Mike O’Reilly said.
“While we can certainly not help one individual business to succeed, what we can do is create the environment for businesses to be able to succeed. That’s what this patio program does.”
However, the Fourth Avenue pedestrian plaza project, which was piloted in the summer of 2018 and deemed successful, has been put on hiatus until further notice.
On Tuesday, city council was asked to consider a request from the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association, which asked for continuation of patio extensions seen over the summer to help businesses during the pandemic.
Council was also asked to consider bringing back the pedestrian plaza — which involves closing a portion of Fourth Avenue to vehicular access for pedestrian use — by June of 2021 and create temporary, rotating block closures on Victoria Street in the spring and summer months next year.
“This is to transform Victoria Street into a pedestrian plaza environment that could be programmed with various activities, including entertainment and an opportunity for retail businesses to capitalize and occupy space on the street, which would provide capacity for individuals to maintain physical distancing while supporting the downtown businesses,” city planning and development manager, Rod Martin told council.
Council expressed concern about the price tag of the patio program. The cost for the city to construct temporary wooden letdowns for 13 businesses over the summer came in at $66,000 ($36,000 for materials and $30,000 for labour). The city said continuation requires construction of more permanent structures, as the wooden structures in the summer have already weathered. The estimate for construction with all-weather materials is between $7,500 for a simple installation to as much as $25,000 for a more complex design.
A rough overall estimate based on uptake in the program this year and average cost would suggest a total bill of about $200,000, Martin said.
Coun. Dale Bass said she didn’t understand how the cost of the structures could be so high, while Coun. Sadie Hunter moved to cap the program to the suggested dollar figure. The move was supported by council, with the intention staff would bring the program back if it was subscribed to for that maximum amount.
Council was also asked to direct staff to undertake a conceptual design and cost estimates and explore funding sources to be presented to council in the first quarter of 2021 for the Fourth Avenue plaza project.
Mayor Ken Christian said he spoke to the City of Kelowna about its shuttering of Bernard Avenue during warmer months this year and the suggestion to him was it worked on a temporary basis, with some businesses relying on vehicular traffic.
Coun. Bill Sarai also suggested some residents driving into the downtown area may not be in support of the plaza. Coun. Arjun Singh, however, argued that “the people have already spoken on this,” based on the plaza pilot project and consultation for the downtown plan. He said that prior to the pandemic, the city had plans and the plaza was intended to become permanent.
“From my perspective, this is an important piece of work to be done,” Singh said. “It’s work that I think will enliven the downtown. It’s supported by the downtown BIA. It’s supported by the folks who have been engaged.”
Council voted 6-3 against moving ahead with design for the project, with Singh, O’Reilly and Coun. Kathy Sinclair in support and Christian and councillors Hunter, Bass, O’Reilly, Sarai and Dieter Dudy opposed. Coun. Denis Walsh declared a conflict of interest as a downtown business owner.
Meanwhile, council voted unanimously in favour of staff working with the KCBIA to create rotating block closures along Victoria Street to create temporary pedestrian plazas next summer.