BANFF – Banff businesses are asking elected officials to consider extending a pedestrian closure for the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue beyond its Sept. 11 end date.
Banff Hospitality Collective's Mike Mendelman and Pete Woods with SkiBig3's Adventure Hub appeared before council Monday (Aug. 10) to make the case that the pedestrian zone should be maintained until the end of October.
Mendelman said by providing space for businesses to expand their operations outdoors where visitors feel more safe, it may have saved some from having to permanently close their doors later this year.
"It has really balanced the welfare of the business community while maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols," he said. "In many ways, it is as if this decision saved the business community."
He said by extending the Banff Avenue pedestrian zone through the autumn season, it would be the best way forward for the community.
Both commended council and administration for how it has handled the pandemic and reopening of the local economy.
Woods said balancing the needs of the community, businesses and visitors with respect to COVID-19 has not been easy, but the community avoided becoming an example of what not to do when it comes to relaunching a tourism based economy during a pandemic.
"It has been an absolute success story," he said. "Thinking of how quickly it came together, I don't think you could have done better."
With restaurants having to reduce capacity for indoor seating and restrict the size of tables, being able to expand patios on Banff Avenue has mitigated that loss of business, said Mendelman.
He argued that by extending the pedestrian zone it would help continue to achieve those outcomes: support for the business community, maintain employment for residents and provide a safe environment for visitors.
"By extending the Banff Avenue pedestrian area through the fall, restaurants will be able to employ more people for longer and deliver a better and safer dining experience," Mendelman said.
David Matys, director of events and animation with Banff and Lake Louise Tourism, said the pedestrian zone has allowed the destination to provide a safe environment for visitors, which is going to be a key factor for the tourism industry's future success.
"It is critical for our economy and survival of many of our businesses that we do continue to work hard to drive visitation and we do so safely," he said.
Matys said BLLT intends to conduct surveys in the short term of its members and visitors to understand how the summer season has been.
Several business owners also wrote letters to council, which were included in the agenda. General manager of the Clock Tower Mall Ossi Treutler Jr. wrote to express his support for an extension for the temporary closure. He also asked that council be open to accepting input into the road closure at some point in the future.
"Should there be a survey at some point, please make sure it is conducted by a truly independent organization," he wrote.
Business owners Kees Vanderlee and Tommy Souikas also wrote to support extending the timeframe until the end of October.
Council's original motion to create the pedestrian zone was passed at the end of May and took effect June 5 with an end date for the initiative of Sept. 11.
During Monday's council meeting, administration also recommended extending the closure, but until Sept. 18.
A report to council from director of planning and development Darren Enns acknowledged that the earlier date was recommended by administration to end operations and envisioned decommissioning the enhancements put in place over the following days.
However, with Sept. 11 being a Friday and weekends proving to have high visitation to Banff Avenue, it was recommended that the end date be changed, as "decommissioning over a weekend where visitation is high may not be the most appropriate timing."
The matter was moved to a special meeting of council on Friday (Aug. 14).