Complete: The Downtown Hub’s pedestrian mall project may be at a standstill for the second summer in a row.
City council voted against a motion brought forward by Coun. Corey Roberts (Rosser) to invest $50,000 in the initiative this year.
“It’s a huge disappointment,” Roberts said. “One of the first places that most big businesses want to visit in any urban centre is their downtown development. This is sort of a staging point that indicates to big business that this city cares about its urban growth and it shows how well we’ve got our act together in other infrastructure departments.”
A busy and vibrant pedestrian mall could be a showcase for Brandon and demonstrate that the city’s downtown is growing in a positive way, Roberts said.
“If you have a dilapidated, aging downtown that nobody’s investing in, it speaks volumes to new developers coming to town,” he said.
The pedestrian mall was included as one of the projects in the city’s Roadmap for Growth. The goal was to foster a “vibrant, active downtown, designed for people.”
In the summer of 2011, from Aug. 17 to Sept. 16, the block of Rosser Avenue between Ninth and 10th streets was modified to allow for a pedestrian-friendly shopping corridor, complete with picnic tables, benches and live entertainment.
The area was blocked off entirely to motorists to start but was opened up to a single lane a few weeks later in response to concerns by businesses further down the block that lamented a lack of through traffic.
The project was met with mixed reviews.
“Everybody has an opinion, whether it was a success or failure,” Roberts said. “The most important thing that we garnered out of that experiment was that it got folks engaged and talking about downtown.”
That same summer, the city made Ninth and 10th streets one-way between Princess and Pacific avenues, and added angled parking along the side. It was intended to make an easy-to-navigate “loop” for downtown drivers as well as try out angled parking instead of parallel parking.
Gwen Bromley’s shop, The Cinnamon Tree, is situated within the block where the pedestrian mall was set up.
“We saw more people and positive comments from the people who were here,” she said.
Bromley said she is “extremely disappointed” to hear the pedestrian mall won’t be getting city funding this summer.
“I think it had huge potential to draw people downtown for lots of different activities that could have been part of it,” Bromley said. “I definitely feel that in order to renew our downtown that it’s going to take something like that, and a lot more, so that’s why it’s a huge disappointment to us that nothing is going to be done.”
Another disappointed merchant is Miranda Stobbe, who manages Abby Rose on the 900-block of Rosser Avenue.
“We were looking forward to having that (pedestrian mall) available,” she said. “Especially with the café next door, to be able to have seating outside in the summer and have a little more foot traffic … It definitely made it more appealing to hang out down here.”
Barry Cullen, owner of Keywest Photo further east along Rosser Avenue on Fifth Street, said he agrees with the decision of city council.
“If they’re going to do something, they’ve got to get it right,” he said. “If you’re going to make the effort and you don’t have the funding, then the decision is correct to not move forward … We want it done right, and to do it right, usually costs money.”
Cullen wasn’t sold on the idea of completely blocking traffic.
“On Rosser, because of the way the structure works with the one-way streets to carry you in a circle … you go east down Rosser and you come back to the west on Princess, if you block that circle then you’re actually probably doing more damage than good,” Cullen said.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said the one-way streets and angled parking have been met with positive feedback.
“Retailers would like more angled parking,” she said. “We added over 70 new spots when we went to the angled parking, so I don’t anticipate that we’ll be going back to the old system.”
Shaun Cameron, chair of Renaissance Brandon, said the pedestrian mall would have been a “focal point” for downtown.
“It’s just unfortunate,” he said. “It’s just another instance of the scope of the downtown not being realized by everyone.”
Roberts said he is not giving up on the initiative.
“I’m going to still try to engage the rest of council over the next little while before the budget is finally approved,” he said. “Hopefully if we can get maybe an official comment from the province that they would support this development … who knows? Maybe it’s not dead yet.”