Chilliwack ends its relationship with Walas Concepts

There was great optimism expressed when Walas Concepts was hired last spring to breathe new life into downtown revitalization.

There are several vacant buildings in downtown Chilliwack

There are several vacant buildings in downtown Chilliwack

Everyone says you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em and especially when to walk away.

Chilliwack is walking away from Walas Concepts.

There was great hope and optimism expressed when Walas Concepts was hired last spring to breathe new life into downtown revitalization.

The consulting firm created a plan based on a “business incubator” being set up in the downtown core to cut the number of vacant, and boarded-up storefronts with a surge of entrepreneurs.

The total spent before the Walas contract ended was about $65,000, with Walas staff having conducted research, and an inventory of unused buildings, as ground work for the incubator concept.

But after a six-month review of the contract between Walas and Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation, the relationship between Walas and Chilliwack was terminated.

The decision last month by the CEPCO board was based on fiscal prudence.

“Sometimes we have to step off the traditional path and Walas was brought in to Chilliwack, based on the successes they had elsewhere in revitalizing large downtown spaces in other parts of world,” said CEPCO president Brian Coombes.

“We looked their six-month report findings and recommendations and felt their vision for proceeding did not justify the investment required from us, and we needed to make the decision to end the contract at this stage.”

City of Chilliwack and CEPCO had partnered on the project with the Dutch based firm, Walas Concepts. It would have meant an annual budget of $195,000.

“We felt at this time we could no longer justify the monthly investment,” said Coombes, which he said was about $10,000 a month.

The last day for Walas staff was on Jan. 16.

There were however “positive contributions” to come out of the experience, including a updated downtown inventory and an analysis of the downtown plans commissioned to date.

“It was made very clear people still have tremendous passion and emotional connections to the downtown. There are a lot of good people trying to make the downtown better.”

In the end there weren’t enough vacant buildings, which the entire plan was based on.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz said the contract was drafted with the condition built in that it could be ended at six-month intervals, if necessary.

“That was done to ensure we’d have some level of accountability,” she said.

Fiscal restraint and prudence were key considerations.

“We’re really careful with our money,” Gaetz said.

The Walas report in some ways confirmed what council already knew.

“They reaffirmed that a neighbourhood has to be built in the  downtown to attract more residents. We were hoping for fresh, new ideas. But they were not forthcoming.”

It’s not over. But it’s clear retail patterns are shifting, and city officials have been paying attention in terms of the future of Chilliwack’s downtown.

“But just because the contract ended, doesn’t mean we are giving up on the downtown,” said Gaetz. “We will do what we have to attract significant investment to our downtown, and continue to work closely with the BIA on this and other projects.”

In the end, the truly surprising finding was that the number of vacant buildings downtown was lower than they actually expected.

“There are fewer than we thought, and not as many out-of-town owners as we had imagined either.”

It was a valuable process in the end. The next stage will focus on a new marketing plan, and seeing what the private sector has to offer.

“We’ll take what we learned and move on from here,” Gaetz added.

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

Twitter.com/chwkjourno

Just Posted

Missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs was found deceased on Thursday evening (June 17).
Body of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs found

Hobbs was reported missing Monday after leaving his job site in Langley

Sarah Sache and her 11-year-old son Winston at their home, West River Farm, in Chilliwack on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Fraser Valley agriculture community offers big support for autism

Chilliwack dairy farmers, the Sache family, sing praises of Steve Saccomano’s charitable work

A tenant walks in front of her home on Boundary Road on Friday, June 18, 2021 after it was destroyed by fire the night before in Chilliwack. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack family homeless after fire rips through house on Abbotsford border

Turtle rescued, no one seriously hurt following Boundary Road fire in Chilliwack

Wild rabbits are all over Chilliwack, but people often think they’re someone’s lost pet and try to ‘save’ them. But the owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room says good intentions can have bad consequences for wild animals. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Owner of Chilliwack’s Reptile Room asks people to leave wild animals in the wild

Amber Quiring says people who think they’re helping are actually doing more harm than good

June is Pride Month.
EDITORIAL: We can make progress during Pride Month

In Chilliwack we get ever closer to becoming a community where everyone is accepted

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

BC Lions running back John White IV (3) runs with the ball during first quarter CFL football action against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Saturday, September 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
BC Lions file trademark for new logo

Canadian Football League team files for new design on June 1

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Camper van explosion burns Vancouver Island gas station to the ground

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. The website for a Broadway theatre showing "Springsteen on Broadway" said it would only allow guests "fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine" — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
No Springsteen for you: AstraZeneca not good enough to qualify for Broadway ticket

Victoria area mayor among those unable to attend New York entertainment due to COVID-19 restriction

Audrey Inouye (right) with her two sons Kiyoshi McMillan (left) and Kaito McMillian drop off her milk to hospital volunteer Sylvia Hendel at a human milk depot on October 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Fraser Health appeals for breast milk after unexplained drop in donations

Give your breast milk and save newborn lives, the health authority is encouraging mothers

The BC Ferries’ website is down for the second time in one week from what they say is likely an overwhelming increase in web traffic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Surging web traffic crashes BC Ferries’ site again

Website down for second time this week

John Furlong told the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 20, 2020 that he thinks the city could and should bid for the 2030 Winter Games. (CP photo)
PODCAST: John Furlong lays out a ‘provincial’ B.C. plan to host the 2030 Winter Olympics

Podcast: Chat includes potential role for Vancouver Island communities

Most Read