Residents say pedestrians and investment key to downtown revitalization

Berdine Jonker

Revitalizing Grand Forks’ downtown was one topic of discussion at a recent heritage values workshop and according to some attendees, pedestrians and increased investment were key.

Coun. Chris Moslin said that the workshop was held because the city wanted to get input from businesses and citizens about designating heritage values for the downtown core and said that more foot traffic was also key to revitalization.

“The first thing is, you have to put people there and you have to put people there, close to there,” said Moslin.

“The car isn’t going to revitalize downtown, pedestrians are going to revitalize downtown. You either have to create high-density in our downtown, or close to it, to put people there or you have to have events that bring pedestrians there.

“That’s what’s going to revitalize downtown, pedestrians – no amount of extra parking is going to do it.”

Moslin said he would like to see more high-density development, additional condominium development (three-storeys or less) and developments that would house commercial on the ground floor and residential up top.

Roger Soviskov, part owner of Jogas Espresso Café, also agreed that more pedestrians downtown was necessary for revitalization and thought that city-approved patios could help in that regard.

“You have to do something for the people, there’s nothing for them to do,” Soviskov explained. “People want to sit out, have a coffee, have a drink, stop from shopping. When you go to the mall in Kelowna, you have a chair to sit down in and a lot of people appreciate having a table to sit at outside in the summer time, when the weather’s nice.

“I don’t know how many businesses will get onboard with this, that’s the thing,” he said.

Susan Klarner, part owner of Kocomo’s Coffee House, said that more investment should be made into downtown buildings.

“The owners of the buildings have to put back into the buildings some of whatever profits they might be making in order to upscale, beautify and make a pattern of the beautification,” she said.

“It has to be bright and vibrant and you have to understand this as an owner of a building, you’re just not renting out a box. The city also has to understand that it may have to give incentives, tax-wise – overhead, electrical – whatever, so that you can find the money to do this.”

Berdine Jonker, a senior heritage planner for the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Investment’s heritage branch, had an opportunity to examine the downtown core and said that investment in the downtown would be beneficial.

“When I walked through downtown Grand Forks to take photos, I could see the potential for revitalizing the area through the implementation of planning tools for the rehabilitation and retrofit of existing and heritage buildings,” Jonker explained.

“The city has a cohesive and intact collection of historic buildings in the downtown core, and it is evident that the unique character of Grand Forks’ downtown could be the foundation for increasing investment in the historic heart of the city.”

Moslin said that a city is a more vibrant place if a variety of styles are present and that was the wonderful thing about Grand Forks’ downtown core – it is a catalogue of different building styles from the turn of the century to the present.

“That’s the character of our downtown. We have a variety of styles, that’s what makes it so vibrant. We have the old buildings and we have the new ones stuck in there and that’s what brings it alive,” he said.