A missed opportunity

As Chilliwack continues its move to reinvent the downtown, council is missing an opportunity to secure a broader range of public support.

As the City of Chilliwack continues its “bold” initiative to reinvent the downtown, council is missing an opportunity to secure a broader range of public support.

Council may disagree with the vision Paramount Theatre supporters have for the property now destined for demolition, but it cannot deny their passion.

Indeed, at a time when apathy dominates municipal politics (33 per cent voter turnout in the last election), that commitment to downtown revitalization is something that should be encouraged, not ignored.

On Tuesday council approved an aggressive move to secure an even larger swath of property in the downtown. The move lays the groundwork for the redevelopment of a main spoke leading from Five Corners –  an area bordered by Yale and Young Roads and Princess Avenue.

There is no estimate on what this will cost, only that the city will pay “fair market value” for the properties it does not already own.

But one thing is clear: Chilliwack taxpayers are fast becoming the largest landowners in the downtown.

The city’s rationale for doing this is sound. CEPCO, the city’s economic development arm, has learned much as it assisted Canada Lands redevelop the former CFB Chilliwack. It has seen how a single land owner can better shape development, rather than await the whims of market forces. Other cities (Burnaby, for example) have had success shaping development through land assembly.

But it is, nonetheless, controversial – especially in the free enterprise world of Chilliwack. Indeed, the Downtown Implementation Plan is designed to not only encourage development downtown, but discourage development elsewhere.

That kind of public intervention will need public support if it hopes to challenge any private interests reluctant to be confined or constricted by the downtown plan.

And cultivation of that support needs to begin now.

Noticeably absent from Tuesday’s briefing was any discussion about the Paramount and other city-owned properties across the street.

One would hope that the concept plan agreed to by council includes some vision for what the other half of Yale Road would look like. Its inclusion could have been a source of continued discussion and engagement for those so passionate about the property.

Instead, its exclusion only raises suspicions and avoids another opportunity to bring a large and necessary group into the conversation.