Opinion: Mill Street just the beginning

Chilliwack taxpayers have invested in the downtown’s future. Now it is up to us to ensure that investment pays off.

Claudia Earl (left) owner of Find A Treasure

The official opening of the renovated Mill Street this weekend is as welcome as spring blossoms.

But it will take more than patios and new pavement to keep the downtown strong. It will take a continued commitment by the community to support the businesses located there.

The city spent more than a half-million dollars to improve Mill Street. Changes include a wider sidewalk, ornamental trees and improved lighting.

It maintained parking, but at the expense of two-way traffic on the street. (That shouldn’t be a problem; Wellington has been one-way for years.)

The combination of Mill Street and Wellington, connected with Central Community Park, provides a great focal point for the downtown.

But without business, those stores and the people they employ won’t be around for long. That’s where we come in.

Renovations to Mill Street have been talked about for years. They’re part of the on-going conversation about ways to reinvigorate the entire downtown.

So far, much of that dialogue has centred on what’s coming down, not what’s going up.

City councillor Ken Popove is hoping the new Mill Street will change that conversation.

“People have the perception of us knocking down buildings and making parking lots,” he told The Progress as work first began back in February,  “but this is what we’re working toward in terms of redevelopment.”

That may be true, but some rather large potholes still remain in the city’s road to redevelopment.  The new pocket park at the corner of Young and Yale looks nice, but it can’t hide the fact that it, and the neighbouring Empress Hotel site, are no longer part of the city’s tax revenue stream. Nor are they contributing to the overall economic vitality of the city.

Patience may be a virtue, but it can also be costly.

Nonetheless, the renovation of Mill Street is a good start, and a victory that should be celebrated.

Chilliwack taxpayers have invested in the downtown’s future. Now it is up to us to ensure that investment pays off by supporting the merchants.