Opinion: What next for downtown Chilliwack?

Downtown buildings may be underused instead of empty, however, few would argue that nothing more needs to be done.

It was never a truly happy marriage.

When Chilliwack Economic Partners (CEPCO) approached the city last year to help fund a three-year contract with Walas Concepts, council agreed.

But it was hardly a warm embrace. The motion to contribute $65,000 to the $195,000 annual operating budget passed without comment.

Indeed, the very idea was seen by some as redundant. The city had just finished its downtown plan that scripted out initiatives to breathe life into the Chilliwack core.

Sure, ideas were welcome. But could a consulting firm, known for reviving urban centres in Europe, offer anything new here?

Two weeks ago, CEPCO decided it couldn’t.

It took advantage of a six-month-review clause in the contract and walked away.

The move generated the predictable howls of waste, particularly when the most salient revelation was that buildings downtown were not as vacant as they appeared.

That exit has been couched in fiscal prudence.

But there remains a simple question. Where do we go from here?

Downtown buildings may be underused instead of empty, however, few would argue that nothing more needs to be done.

Chilliwack taxpayers have already invested heavily in the downtown. And every year, through lost tax revenue, they contribute more.

The city has crafted tax incentives for downtown redevelopment, and actively supported initiatives like the opening of UFV’s Five Corners campus.

But there remains much to be done. Aside from the vacant city-owned properties, the Safeway block (which has soil contamination issues) is an obvious example. The former Traders Inn motel (boarded and fenced) is another.

If critics of the Walas contract think revitalization can occur without a cost, they are mistaken.

Walas may not have been the right fit. But citizens of Chilliwack have to decide if they want to do more to recoup the investments they’ve already made in the downtown, or if they’re content to wait for the benevolence of the market.

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