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Downtown Nanaimo street wins top spot in national contest

The ability to not only survive, but prosper, in an era of suburban development has earned downtown Nanaimo's Commercial Street nationwide applause through a national contest hosted by the Canadian Institute of Planners.

From more than 6,000 nominations and four months of voting, Commercial Street was voted first in the country the Great Streets category of the inaugural contest.

Hamilton's Ottawa Street and Saskatoon's Broadway Avenue finished second and third, respectively.

The top locations were honoured not only for their popularity or Internet voting drive, but because they also met certain criteria and high standards of planning.

"Nanaimo's historic Commercial Street ... is rich in heritage and has struggled to stay alive in the face of rapid suburban development," said Linda Allen, a panel judge and president of CitySpaces Consulting. "The city and the downtown business community, working together, have catalyzed growth, revitalized heritage buildings and welcomed year-round cultural activity."

Required criteria for each street nominated included memorable or unique character, promotion of social and economic activities, employing of visually interesting architecture, accessibility by different modes of transportation, and reflection of culture, history and landscape.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said the honour can be attributed to years of revitalization and co-operation between the city and business owners downtown to breathe life back into Commercial Street after the north end was developed.

"To come in first is a huge achievement," said Ruttan. "I think it speaks well not only for Nanaimo, and specifically downtown Nanaimo, but it also addresses the fact that the improvements the City of Nanaimo has made over the years, since 1983, is being recognized. As we revitalize downtown to make it livable and more attractive for people to come back, both business and shoppers, this speaks to the fact we're obviously going in the right direction."

Nanaimo was the first city in British Columbia to create business improvement areas, which require business and property owners in designated downtown areas to pay levies that help fund revitalization initiatives. Part of that funding was used to provide grants to restore heritage buildings.

Ruttan said every time an award like this is given to a Nanaimo feature economic development offices are notified and the award is broadcast to help attract visitors to the area.

"It's a selling point for people wanting to come to Nanaimo," said Ruttan.

Lantzville's Snaw-Naw-As community took third place in the contest's Great Neighbourhoods category.

Marni Cappe, president of the Canadian Institute of Planners, said participation nationwide in the voting process exceeded their expectations.

"People really got involved and wanted to see their favourite location recognized as a great place. We tapped into a tremendous pride that Canadians have in the many beautiful places in this country," said Cappe. "It was, in a sense, a celebration of great places."

Quebec City's Le Petit Champlain took top spot in the Great Neighbourhoods category while Winnipeg's The Forks was first in the Great Public Spaces category.

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