BANFF – The budget for redevelopment of Bear Street into a permanent plaza-like, pedestrian-friendly area has gone up by $3.1 million for a total price tag of $9.5 million.
On Tuesday (Dec. 17), council voted 4-2 to tentatively approve the additional money for improvements to stormwater management, required road changes due to a geotechnical site assessment and additions to the front part of the surface parking lot.
In addition, council approved a $554,000 communications and marketing plan to lessen the impact of construction on professional services like doctors and dentists and businesses with angst about lost revenue.
“We’ve learned that we cannot build the street for a budget of $6.4 million,” said Darren Enns, the Town of Banff’s director of planning and development, noting the price was tested through the tender process.
“The market did not fail to educate us on what it costs us to build this street, and the result is the cost exceeds our existing budget by a not insignificant amount, that needless to say was a surprise to us.”
The Town of Banff is going into short-term debt to fund the project. How the additional $3.1 million for Bear Street will affect other projects in the 10-year capital plan will be discussed at budget on Jan. 13. Following a five-year-trial that began in 2013, council gave administration its marching orders earlier this year to move ahead with a permanent design for Bear Street, to be a shared street where pedestrians have priority. The redevelopment of the 200 block of Bear Street has been on the books since the 1992 downtown enhancement plan, and Town of Banff officials say the multi-year shared-street trial showed that the district is becoming a growing tourist attraction.
“The objective behind the Bear Street project is clearly to increase the amount of pedestrian activity on the street,” said Enns, noting Bear Street sees about one-sixth to one-tenth of the pedestrians visiting Banff Avenue.
Coun. Corrie DiManno voiced strong support for spending the additional $3.1 million, noting she didn’t want to see the project delayed any further beyond the expected construction start of spring 2020.
She said it’s unfortunate that the price has increased, but the geotechnical findings and the need for greater environmental responsibility are non-negotiable.
“In a town where we have a fixed commercial square footage, redevelopment is a blessing, reinvestment in our infrastructure is a blessing,” DiManno said.
“This is the Town of Banff investing in our product so that if we do hit hard times again, which we will – the next SARS, 9/11, God forbid any of those – this will be what we fall on.”
Councillors Ted Christensen and Brian Standish were the only councillors who didn’t support the additional $3.1 million spend. Coun. Peter Poole was absent, but in past discussions, has declared a pecuniary interest because he owns property on Bear Street.
Trying to push the project back until 2023, Coun. Christensen voiced concern about the municipality’s debt load and the estimated $5.6 million shortfall in provincial capital grants over the next 10 years.
“I cannot support this amount of money, this change at this time; it’s not prudent. We need to match our resources to our demand and I don’t think that the demand is there,” he said. “I don’t want to see us have a legacy of increasing debt and soaring taxes.”
Coun. Standish, who manages the Home Hardware on Bear Street, had concerns about the $9.5 million price tag.
“I’m of the mindset that if you’re going to do something, do it right, but I can come up with over three million reasons why this is not the case,” he said. “I can support some of the environmental sustainability initiatives, but a $3 million ask at this time, at the 11th hour, I think is unreasonable.”
The design changes to enhance environmental sustainability come with an $871,000 price tag.
The detailed design process called for better management of stormwater, rather than the current system that sees stormwater captured on the north side of the street and flow directly into the Bow River without treatment.
“This, in our minds, isn’t the example of environmental leadership that the town expects,” said Enns, noting the new system would capture and divert water to a system of underground cells, which would then be used to irrigate landscape pods. In addition, the Town of Banff expects better stormwater management will become a critical issue for Parks Canada in the review of the management plan for Banff National Park.
“The aquatic health of the Bow River is of critical importance to Parks Canada, to all of us as residents,” said Enns. “By adding more to deal with contamination of stormwater, which is the right thing to do, we’ll get out ahead of anticipated regulatory requirements from Parks Canada.”
The new costs include another $1.2 million for design changes to include the front portion of the Bear Street surface parking lot into the project in order to provide landscape screening between the lot and the street.
The money will also cover a pedestrian path along both the north and south edges of the lot, which can link to Banff Avenue, and create an opportunity for a public gathering spot and seating at the heart of the street. Other changes include lighting improvements.
Lastly, another $671,000 was added to the original $6.4 million budget as a result of changes required due to site assessment, including cleanup of contamination soil at the site of a former funeral home, dry cleaners and gas station, among other things.
Coun. Chip Olver supported spending the additional $3.1 million, noting that the point of going to detailed design is to find out any surprises before a project gets in the ground.
“We’ve been working towards this for a long time and I think it’s Bear Street’s turn,” she said, noting Bear Street businesses were asking for this to happen at the time of Banff Refreshing in 2007.