Trail council approves downtown plan

User-friendly renovations combined with historic touches and business incentives aim to bring life back into city’s core

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go, downtown.

And it is downtown where people are expected to go after the Downtown Opportunities and Action Committee (DOAC) took the wraps off of their 122-page report for revitalization of the century-old central core of the city.

It was nearly one year’s worth of meetings, input, deliberations and consultations before the plan materialized on paper, bringing together every conceivable and realistic concept, scheme and philosophy on downtown aesthetics into the Trail Downtown Plan.

The intent of the plan was to draw on the city’s historic origin and its eclectic ethnic mix to “collectively create a vibrant and harmonious downtown.” It was presented and approved Monday night in Trail city council chambers.

“I believe the vision we have here is going to benefit the citizens of Trail for a very long time to come,” said councilor Kevin Jolly, who spearheaded the DOAC since its inception until he joined council last November.

The report is intended to provide the impetus to breathe life back into the downtown through the identification of key design initiatives, formulating an attractive mixed-use, pedestrian oriented urban place with a “diverse range of specialty retail and services supported by residential uses within a 10-minute walk.”

Drawing upon the city’s deep Italian heritage, a downtown “Little Italy” corridor was envisioned as a celebration of that heritage, featuring old country character with an array of mixed use, multicultural areas linking the community to the heart of the downtown.

The downtown will be promoted as a mixed use area with commercial and office space occupying the street level, and residential and office uses utilizing upper storey space, with an Italian-esque flair.

The city would establish an accepted Italian colour palette and promote development and redevelopment of the downtown through its Italian roots.

It was not deemed a downtown master plan — a tome to toss on the shelf to collect dust — but an approach to moving planning and strategy to action and implementation, identifying realistic physical planning actions for the downtown.

And that action is already happening. The first piece of work expected to materialize will focus on a Gateway Corridor, a framework of entry features and a green streetscape to “build an urban identity to provide ‘cues’ that a visitor is entering the downtown.”

The DOAC had endorsed the gateway corridor as the key priority for 2012 and council supported that view, earmarking $100,000 out of the capital fund to the project.

“What we’re really looking at doing is creating an inviting entrance to the city that directs people not just onto that main route through town, but into the downtown,” said Jolly

He expected the city to be able to leverage that amount with some “synergies” through the Ministry of Transportation that could triple the amount available for the project.

Council approved city staff moving forward to getting the information required to do the improvements to the corridor, and engaging MMM Group Limited again — the authors of the downtown plan — to put in a project proposal.

Along with other approved projects, like painting the Memorial Centre, the development will look like a much bigger venture, said Jolly.

Much of the work to revitalize the downtown will come from the private sector, the report noted. However, the current municipal climate does not encourage improvements, said city chief administrative officer David Perehudoff, with any new construction or improvements causing an increase in taxes.

Currently, if a business owner improves their building at assessed value it would raise property taxes, thereby creating a disincentive. New legislation would give council authority to exempt new assessments for a period of time to encourage investment.

“There isn’t any sort of coercion that will take place that says ‘You have to do what is in this picture.’ We just simply put this forward as our idea,” said Jolly.

The downtown would be made more pedestrian friendly with “complete streets” — using bump outs to slow traffic down, making intersections more obvious and widening sidewalks to create more comfort elements for pedestrians.

As well, a central city plaza idea — a gathering point in the downtown — off of the Esplanade will be pursued and Perehudoff dropped the news the city was already on its way to beginning that project.

He said the city had entered into discussions with the property owner of the former Eagles Hall, and the city has an agreement to purchase that building. They will be moving forward and closing that sale at the end of June, Perehudoff predicted.

“That will provide the city with significant opportunity to deal directly with the civic plaza concept and open that whole corridor up,” said Perehudoff.

Other action items include developing and implementing a downtown farmers’ market, enhance and expand seasonal downtown events, hiring a downtown economic development coordinator, and lobbying the provincial and federal governments and other applicable programs for financial support.

The goal of the plan will be to establish annual capital expenditures as part of a staged approach to any priority identified, similar to what council did when the Esplanade and Gyro Park walkway improvement were undertaken.

Work begins “as quick as we can make it happen,” said Jolly, with the Gateway Corridor the first project off of the mark. Council felt the gateway was the lynch pin needed to seal the deal with private enterprise in the downtown core.

“We feel that is a critical first step in getting the energy moving in the right direction and getting the buy in from the business community, putting more people on the main street in front of their business,” said Jolly.

The DOAC will continue to meet and discuss various recommendations and their ongoing involvement, restructuring sub committees to align with the plan and any work plans underway.

The report is made available for public viewing on the city’s website at http://www.trail.ca/documents/2012-05-07_TrailDowntownPlan.pdf.