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Nanaimo, B.C. planning large downtown redevelopment project

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Planners in Nanaimo, B.C., are working this week on a draft design for one of the oldest roadways in the city – with the goal of enhancing the role of Commercial Street as a destination.

"It’s no different than anybody renovating their own home," said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog on Wednesday.

"It gets tired, it is looking tired, and we need to make improvements that will attract people," he said.

Staff with the city have been working with a consultant and talking to stakeholders since the fall to create a master plan design for the downtown strip, which include some offshoot streets like Skinner and Wharf streets.

It started with community feedback on what people like or don’t like – and has now moved to the design phase, which could yield early results by the end of the week.

"People want to see Commercial Street designed in a way that’s flexible so that it can be used for events," said Design Commercial’s project lead, Bill Corsan.

"It’s become the gathering place for downtown."

The master plan is looking at public aspects, like lighting, landscaping, and traffic flow.

The city says it’s heard from people that they want Commercial Street to be left open for vehicles. However, changes that improve pedestrian access could involve making it a slow zone.

Meanwhile, one business owner thinks the road should turn into a one-way street.

"By doing a one-way street, we would be able to angle the street parking so we wouldn’t be taking away any (parking), and having that closure on the one side would allow every restaurant and café to be able to have an outside eating area," said Quintessential owner, Carla Samson.

She’s been running the clothing shop on Commercial Street for 17 years and thinks the downtown has been growing each year.

"I want to see it keep thriving," she said. "I think with the way that it’s heading, it will only get better and better."

Her biggest wish is for a walkway connecting the waterfront to the downtown street, as well as more beautification projects.

"Anything we can do to give the downtown more ambiance and create a space that people just love to come to would be fantastic," said Samson.

PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

Toole Design has been commissioned to do the study, worth about $150,000.

This week it’s hosting virtual sessions where people can weigh in on some draft design options.

The project lead says Toole Design will have a plan to present Thursday. Then more community consultation will take place in March, giving the opportunity for people to weigh in before further refinements are made and pitched to council by the summer.

"It’s a bit like Christmas: We’re looking forward to it and we hope to be happily surprised," said Krog.

The city’s mayor says council is committed to putting an emphasis on the downtown core.

It’s also reviewing a re-zoning application to build a massive mixed-use development on the site of the dormant Howard Johnson Hotel site.

Strongitarm Consulting’s pitch would build eight residential buildings that would house approximately 700 units, a hotel with roughly 120 rooms, and commercial space near the corner of Terminal Avenue and Comox Road.

The city says the proposal is actively under review, but it’s too early to say when it will go to council.

The mayor says council is also trying to attract at least another 5,000 people to live downtown.

"I always jokingly say, 'Nobody travels to a city to look at its suburbs,'" said Krog. "People are interested in what the downtown looks like, what amenities are offered."

Thursday's final virtual session related to Design Commercial is scheduled for 6 p.m. to7:30 p.m.

You can find the Zoom meeting link and project details on the City of Nanaimo website.

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