The Walas concept would take underused commercial spaces in downtown Chilliwack and repurpose them in truly creative ways. Mentorship and partnerships are key.

New Walas concept for Downtown Chilliwack to see vacant spaces filled

Walas is a consulting group that specializes in revitalizing downtown cores with a glut of vacant or under-utilized buildings.

Downtown Chilliwack needs help now.

That’s why City of Chilliwack and Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation are embarking on a unique business development proposal by Walas Concepts fuelled by innovative business incubation.

Walas is a consulting group that specializes in revitalizing downtown cores with a glut of vacant or under-utilized buildings.

“The hope is that with Walas Concepts on board, they will bring their system into our community and work on the ground with the community to become that all-important transition needed to move forward with the downtown redevelopment,” said CEPCO president Brian Coombes.

Chilliwack council approved $65,000 in CDI funding Tuesday for the “Finding the Future” concept plan, which would have a $195,000 annual budget to concentrate on business development and attraction in the downtown, as well as boosting commercial occupancy.

The creative proposal was presented to CEPCO last month. It envisions Chilliwack as a prototype of the future, “a centre for innovation and sustainability,” fostering the learning economy and a green economy, and functioning as a new business incubator with a focus on the agriculture, the environment, education and health care.

Chilliwack could become an agribusiness hub, a “food valley.”

The concept would complement the city’s downtown plan that has focused lately on land assembly, with an eye to significant redevelopment and revitalization.

“But we don’t know the exact timeline of that redevelopment,” said Coombes. “We do know the downtown needs help now.”

Walas Concepts has a proven track record in the Netherlands of creating these prototype communities of the future.

“This is not ‘build it and they will come’ that we’re talking about. It’s being proactive with the opportunities that exist right now,” said Coombes. “We don’t just need more new awnings, or another big downtown event.

“We need to explore all the options, and do our best to find the solution that pulls all these ideas together.”

The concept is to take under-used commercial spaces in the downtown core and re-purpose them. Mentorship and partnerships are key.

Mayor Sharon Gaetz likened part of the concept to a Dragons’ Den philosophy from the CBC show.

“This will help people with good, fresh business ideas who might not have the capital. That’s where the mentorship comes in,” said Gaetz.

Jobs, internships, start-ups, and collaborations are all part of the plan, with an expected full-time job creation equivalent of 200.

“I breathe, eat, sleep and dream about our downtown,” said Mayor Gaetz. “The possibilities could be endless if it had new life breathed into it.”

There would also be a full-time person working on the business incubation plan from a central downtown location.

“They will be accessible and will work hand in hand with the community on this,” Coombes said.

They didn’t just want to hire another consultant to write a big report.

“This approach is very outside the box,” he said. “It’s all of us working together on something that will have the biggest impact on the downtown.”

Regular evaluations are built into the three-year contract at six-month intervals to ensure that expectations are being met.

The expected start date is May 1, 2014, and first priority will be setting up an office downtown.

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