By Lyonel Doherty
The ideas flowed as much as the beer during the Town’s open house at the Firehall Brewery last night.
More than 60 people packed into the social room to quaff ale, eat appetizers and offer their ideas on the “Downtown Action Plan.”
The municipality is seeking input on what residents would like to see in the downtown core. Wednesday’s engagement included door prizes and trivia questions, which were answered by people clicking on hand-held remotes.
Local homeowner Kathleen Molloy said the Town could have chosen a bigger, brighter venue to accommodate all of the people, since it was rather crowded in the brewery’s social room. But that didn’t stop her from offering ideas.
Molloy said there should be disincentives for empty lot owners in town and for people who leave their messes behind.
“There are a lot of empty spaces. If you want to keep an empty space you should have to pay for it,” she said.
Molloy said Oliver is a place where “things catch fire a lot” and are not replaced. So there needs to be the will to put plans into action. She referred to the previous Greater Oliver Concept Plan that sat on the shelf for many years.
Former mayor Pat Hampson also took part in the “dotmocracy” exercise, which involved placing dots on ideas that meld with your own.
Hampson said whatever the Town does, it has to offer newcomers the same things they valued in the Lower Mainland.
“If people don’t find it here they will go to Osoyoos.”
Hampson also said the Town has to change its approach on bylaw enforcement, saying it’s too apathetic in enforcing the rules.
He pointed out that Main Street is really a “no winner” because of all the heavy truck traffic. Therefore, he believes the key is to focus on developing Station Street as much as possible.
Social worker Donna Ashcroft said she would like to see a non-profit agency develop a hostel to provide accommodation for fruit pickers, as well as an emergency homeless shelter in the winter.
Other ideas that people came up with included a local wine bar, more urban living space, and “clean up back streets.”
The ideas that received the most dots were: get people outside; activate underutilized spaces; beautify storefronts; attract a hotel; encourage development; and conduct a shop local campaign.
During the trivia games, people were asked what was the best use of the Town-owned lot on Main Street. Retail commercial was the top choice over housing, parking and mixed use. Sixty-two per cent of the people who played the game said the Town should invest public money to develop the site.
People were also asked to pick their top quick-start action for the downtown core. The majority chose a marketing strategy.
A business attraction plan was the people’s choice for short-term action, and attracting a new hotel was the long-term action of choice.
Consultant John Ingram from EcoPlan International told Town council on Monday that downtown has experienced a slow decline over the years with vacant stores and nearly three acres of empty lots. That has led to a decline in shoppers, he noted.
But he said this is a very common challenge that many municipalities face, and there’s “no silver bullet.” However, there are success stories, and Oliver has them, he pointed out.
“Oliver has a pretty wonderful quality of life,” Ingram said, noting this is the Town’s ace up the sleeve.
He stated the keys to success are diversification, beautification and mixed use.
Ingram added that some of the objectives in Oliver include retaining local businesses, improving infrastructure, and supporting youth and seniors.
Ingram pointed out that other aces Oliver has up its sleeve are the Okanagan Correctional Centre and the Area 27 racetrack.
Some of the ideas being bantered around include: a downtown working group; partnership groups (with wineries and the Osoyoos Indian Band); a parking analysis; a downtown residential development incentive strategy; and a business retention strategy.
Mayor Ron Hovanes said he really wants to get input on what the public wants to do with the municipal lot downtown.
Councillor Jack Bennest said what he wants and what council wants is private investment, but that has been slow in coming.