City sets sights on downtown revitalization
City of Camrose director of planning and development Aaron Lecki, Mayor Norm Mayer and city manager Malcolm Boyd want to hear local ideas about future redevelopment for downtown. Supplied
The City of Camrose is set to develop a vision for the downtown.
Over the next 10-12 months be prepared to hear a lot about DARP. The City is launching their Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan, and like other planning documents such as the Transportation Master Plan, they will be going to the community to gather opinions and information about the best way forward.
“What do the citizens of Camrose want to see downtown?” said City of Camrose director of planning and development Aaron Leckie. “We’re trying to avoid that top-down approach that ‘This is what’s going to happen and we’ll make it happen.’ I’d like to see more people saying ‘This is what we’d like to see,’ and we’d just provide the mechanisms to make that possible.”
The plan would potentially cover all areas of downtown development from aesthetics and heritage buildings to how to encourage people to live, work and play downtown. Leckie says that this does not mean they will be forcing current properties and businesses to redevelop, but to provide guidelines for properties as they reach a natural stage of redevelopment in their life span.
One of the potentially bigger issues is how to encourage development of vacant or underutilized properties. Underutilized properties would be properties like parking lots that are rarely, if ever, used. These types of properties have been a growing concern for the City and was an issue in October’s municipal election. Currently, in the area defined as Downtown Camrose, there are more than one million square feet of such properties. Downtown Camrose is a 36-city block area that stretches from 48th Avenue to the rail line and from 53rd Street to 46th street.
Leckie stresses that there are no serious strategies currently under serious consideration by the City right now, that they are waiting for the results of this study before proceeding with any strategy.
Some larger cities like Edmonton and Calgary have instituted a Community Revitalization Levy to help rebuild their downtowns. With a CRL, the city takes on the cost of massive capital projects like roads, sewer, sanitary, water, public art and public transportation. The projects are amortized over 25 years. When development comes they have to contribute back into those capital improvements through a Community Revitalization Levy and the additional assessment that is created.
“We don’t know if that is the right fit for Camrose yet, because we do have a very healthy Business Improvement Area that has done a good job of coordinating a lot of downtown projects,” said Leckie.
He adds there are loose guidelines in the Municipalities Government Act, but they are in place to ensure the City is able to demonstrate a benefit to the community.
One of the bigger issues is the general look of the historic downtown, and if citizens want it maintained in the plan, if new buildings have to attempt a similar look, or how new design is integrated into the current look and feel of the neighbourhood. The City also wants to figure out how to best integrate some of the institutions like City Hall, Camrose Public Library and Camrose Lutheran Bible Institution into the fabric of the area.
“If we want people to really round out their experience downtown, we need to really promote those other uses downtown,” said Leckie.
The City promises the downtown businesses will play a major role in whatever plan is put forward.
“The businesses are what has provided the beating heart of downtown for a long time and we need to make sure that their needs are understood and planned for accordingly,” said Leckie.
The City will be going a different route than their standard open house and public hearing method for community consultation. Instead, they are utilizing their recently ratified communications plan to set up pup-up boutiques in vacant office spaces on Main Street, and will have booths at the downtown market, Jaywalkers, Festival of Trees, Midnight Madness and other community events and gatherings. They are also working on branding and promotion for the project.
“We just want to be out and engage with people on a more frequent and casual basis,” said Leckie. “We just need to have a greater presence to show that we are invested in the planning process too.”
The community engagement will really be cranked up starting in February and the City hopes to have a report put together by October.