The Gazette’s June 13 editorial about downtown revitalization is especially interesting in light of how long the Downtown Area Redevelopment Plan (DARP) has been in place.
The Gazette correctly notes that adding park benches and realigning streets only makes sense when there are significant numbers of people walking around downtown. And yet, despite DARP being passed several years ago, we still see the same turnover with businesses closing their doors, such as the recent departure of Old Hippy Furniture.
The rules for new development under DARP are there for everyone to read, so why doesn’t there seem to be much new development? Why does so much of the change seem to be coming only from publicly-funded projects like the realignment of St. Anne Street, rather than private investment? The new building proposed for the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce would require a huge investment of taxpayer dollars to get off the ground. The revitalization of Grandin Mall doesn’t necessarily count, since if I recall correctly Amacon has indicated that they would have begun the rebuild sooner, if it hadn’t been delayed by the recession.
Could it be that DARP’s new rules, such as the height requirements for new buildings and the restriction on the types of businesses that can set up on the ground floors of buildings are hurting downtown development instead of helping it? As I wrote a few years ago (“Downtown businesses can do the heavy lifting”, St. Albert Gazette, June 8, 2011), the downtown merchants have already converted our downtown into a specialized shopping and services district that provides a lot of things you can’t get at Wal-Mart or Target. Services such as psychologists and investment professionals add a similar value to the downtown as shops and restaurants, since they attract people who can then spend money at the shops and restaurants that have set up there.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sometimes, less can actually be more. In this case, implementing fewer zoning restrictions, rather than more of them under DARP, may be the right way to go. Former city councillor Gilles Prefontaine talked during the last municipal election about how he was unhappy about DARP turning into a wish list for city administration.
Unfortunately, that’s all it seems like we have so far-a number of expensive public projects without much in the way of buy-in from the private sector.
Jared Milne, St. Albert