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A slowing heartbeat
Northern News Services
Published Friday, February 4, 2011
"I consider the downtown of any city to be the heartbeat and right now I suppose it can be questioned whether ours is very close to flat lining," said city councillor Cory Vanthuyne.
The increasing number of vacant storefronts in downtown malls and two more to come, with the upcoming closure of CD Plus and the relocation of Reitman's to the Range Lake area, has councillors concerned about what's to come of the city's downtown core.
"It is a big concern," said Coun. David Wind. "It goes kind of like a snowball. You know, you get the ball rolling and before you know it, more and more stores are going."
Wind said although it's a concern for the city, there are more people who need to get involved in the revitalization process.
"The city can do some things to help make it happen - to provide some incentive for developers, say, and try to take care of the streets and make sure the litter is picked up and try to make sure there's an atmosphere where we take pride in our downtown - but the business owners and the developers have to get on board, too."
Wind sits on the Smart Growth Implementation Committee, which held its first meeting Tuesday evening.
The 13-member committee, which is comprised of members of the city and the community, took over the Downtown Enhancement Committee at the end of last year. The new committee's purpose is to advise the city as it advances projects and actions outlined in the Smart Growth Development Plan that was completed in July.
In the plan are 15 recommended actions for the city's downtown.
The chair of the committee, Coun. Bob Brooks, pointed to a few things he thinks will be particularly helpful - number one being the creation of additional residential units in the area.
"That will really address a lot of the social issues that we have in the downtown core," he said. "By having more people, the streets will become safer, it (the downtown core) will become vital because there will be more businesses, (and) more customers going into downtown businesses."
The proposed Con Mine Community Energy Project, which, if completed, will pump water through the now defunct Con Mine, harnessing its geothermal heat to warm 39 downtown buildings, is another way to improve the affordability of downtown core, which will attract more people, Brooks said.
"It's quite a multi-year, multi-million dollar project that specifically speaks to what the people had asked for to reduce the cost of living, as well as reducing greenhouse gases, so you sort of kill two birds with one stone."
The city is also making efforts to beautify the downtown core through streetscaping projects, work with the Aurora Arts Society and a facade improvement program that matches funds put forward by businesses for storefront improvements.
Vanthuyne said to attract people to the downtown, it's important to make the city's "heart" welcoming.
To do that, there needs to be more activity in the area, he said, suggesting that festivals and cultural activities like Raven Mad Daze and the Caribou Carnival need to be revitalized.
"Those are the kinds of things that give life to our culture and heritage and give us a lot to partake in and tourists to get involved in. It carries such a positive energy when it's going well," he said.
"Somehow, someway I'd like to see those get revitalized."