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EDITORIAL: Stop delaying Canmore's downtown enhancement plan

A downtown enhancement plan has been in the capital plan for several years and council has repeatedly chosen to delay doing this work. With another Main Street closure this year and paid parking coming online next year, the business community is ready to work on the vision for the downtown's future now, not in 2023.

Canmore's elected officials and municipal leaders need to take the time, money and effort to craft a strategic plan and vision for the future of Canmore's downtown this year. 

This capital project has been on the books for at least the past five years, if not longer, as a master planning process that we have known would be needed in the future.

Well, the future is now and once again elected officials have punted this $160,000 capital project down the road to 2023. It has gone from a low, to medium to high priority and it would be far more beneficial and advantageous for the future of our community to get this done sooner rather than later.

Downtown Business Improvement Area board chair and owner of Rusticana Grocery Christine de Soto brought the issue up while she was discussing the closure of Main Street this summer for COVID and the decision by council to delay the implementation of paid parking to 2022. 

"I feel that it does go hand-in-hand and we no longer have the town centre master plan on the table to discuss," she said. 

Both are major changes for how the downtown functions. Both have been approved without having a master plan for this very important part of our community. 

In fact, elected officials hinted that the success of the pedestrian only zone in the two blocks of Main Street could lead to a permanent road closure in the summer for the future. 

If that is the case, it begs the question: what is the community's vision for Canmore's downtown core? 

During the council budget deliberations the discussion around a new $14.15 million fire hall on Palliser Trail led to this question being posed and rightfully so.

Council was provided a recommended motion to direct administration to consider the sale of the current fire hall site as a way to fund the new one and reduce debt levels. Councillor Joanna McCallum put forward a successful motion to add considering leasing options as well.

She pointed out that this piece of real estate is in a prime location in the downtown core. She pointed out that the municipality is constantly complaining that it does not own enough land to accomplish all the strategic goals and priorities. 

So why, then, asked McCallum, would the Town only consider selling the land and not leasing it instead? How does this corner lot fit into the municipality's vision for the future? 

As it turns out, nobody will have an answer to that question until sometime in 2023 when the downtown enhancement plan is set to get done. 

While the traffic flow changes in the downtown that we have seen over the last year are part of the Integrated Transportation Plan, along with paid parking, how those things fit into the context of the vision for this area into the future is an important consideration.

If Canmore is going to look at a pedestrain only Main Street into the future – that should be done as part of this important planning work. It should be done this year while we are able to assess the effects of these changes in real time. 

There is also the fact that downtown is a busy place at certain times of the day, and year. This increase in traffic – pedestrian, cyclist, vehicle and transit – has changed how many locals experience their own downtown.

We have seen transit added to our community in the past several years and that has also changed the dynamics in the centre of town. The future of transit will do that, too.

What does that look like and what is the vision for the future? Until we do this much needed work, as a community, we will have no answers, just questions and frustrations. 

One thing is for sure, 2023 is too late to get started on this. The business community is hungry for this work – and they are tired of waiting for council to be ready for it as well.