Don’t expect anything to get built on Yellowknife’s 50-50 lot any time soon.
On Monday night, a number of city councillors sought to rein in current proposals to turn the lot – on the corner of 50th Street and 50th Avenue – into an open-air commercial plaza leading into Centre Square Mall.
Ultimately, councillors appeared to effectively press ‘pause’ on the process of developing the lot until a new council can tackle the plans after October’s municipal election.
They voted for administration to go back and ask you, the public, for more opinions on more options – not just the $6.5 million proposal first put forward last week.
Several councillors simply do not believe a commercial plaza in this form is the right move, and they say residents agree. Safety is a primary concern.
“People are not confident we can make a commercial plaza safe and inviting at all times of the day, including weekends,” said councillor Adrian Bell.
That view was supported by councillor Phil Moon Son, who added: “There are lots of things about this design I’m totally uncomfortable with.”
Reiterating views she first expressed last week, councillor Rebecca Alty questioned whether an outdoor plaza would see any use worth talking about in Yellowknife’s long winter months.
But she also felt the plaza would do little, if anything, to reinvigorate surrounding shops and malls.
“One of the reasons downtown is slowly becoming a ghost town is because of online shopping,” said Alty. “This commercial plaza isn’t going to change that.”
Councillor Linda Bussey continued to push for an anchor tenant – currently missing from the proposal – to be included, saying countless other examples of downtown revitalization called for some form of large tenant to draw crowds.
Councillors Cory Vanthuyne and Dan Wong remained largely in support of the proposal, with Wong expressing concern that redevelopment of the lot may never get off the ground unless councillors agree on some form of action.
“What we’re voting for tonight is moving from the symbolic and taking the first step into the real,” said Wong. “I’m going to continue to stand behind this project.”
But councillor Niels Konge put forward an entirely different view.
“The vast majority of people do not support what we see here today,” said Konge.
“This plan does not deal with the underlying issues of the downtown. It’s probably going to be an enjoyable place for three, maybe four months of the year. The rest of the time, it’s not going to be very well-visited.”
On the topic of safety, Konge added: “We couldn’t manage two benches in front of the Post Office – we had to move those – so what makes us think we can manage an area like this?”
Alty wants to see a broader range of proposals featuring alternatives like a public building, for example a library or cultural centre.
“What could bring people downtown and who could partner with us on this? How much would it cost?” She asked. “I’d be willing to support furthering our public engagement on this.”
That will probably be what comes to pass. City administration says it may have a small amount of cash remaining to carry out a further public consultation. The next council will have to subsequently pick up the process.
“The next council’s job is to continue that work, to provide confidence to the community that it will be a safe place,” said Son. “These plans are going to change, and they should change.”