Nanaimo councillors recommend Commercial Street revitalization

City expected to spend $150,000 to come up with plan for public realm improvements

The scope of the Commercial Street revitalization plan will include portions of surrounding streets. (City of Nanaimo image)

The scope of the Commercial Street revitalization plan will include portions of surrounding streets. (City of Nanaimo image)

The City of Nanaimo wants to add appeal to the downtown, and is looking at spending $150,000 to come up with a plan for potential improvements there.

Nanaimo city councillors, at a finance and audit committee meeting Wednesday, July 21, unanimously recommended an expenditure of $150,000 for a Commercial Street revitalization plan.

Dale Lindsay, general manager of development services, said there are “elements of Commercial Street that are tired or near the end of their life,” and suggested the timing is right for a public realm plan which he said has been talked about for a number of years.

“[It’s about] making sure that at the end of the day, it’s a successful place, that it’s a people place, that it’s a place where people want to be and be seen. That’s the ultimate goal,” Lindsay said.

The $150,000 would cover the hiring of consultants to come up with an engagement strategy and develop a “more detailed plan on standards and expectations for that corridor than what we currently have,” Lindsay said.

He said the city has a “high-level” urban design strategy for the downtown, but a revitalization plan would add detail and consider, for example, transportation and underground servicing in addition to public realm improvements. He said the work deserves the attention of an experienced professional.

“It’s a significant project that we want to make sure we get right, so I think bringing in that external expertise would be very critical in making it a successful project,” Lindsay said.

Jake Rudolph, the city’s chief administrative officer, provided examples of design elements that might come out of the plan. He said the city might want to consider streetscapes that require less maintenance and improve accessibility. He said wider sidewalks could be considered, as well as more electrical plug-ins for special events, and suggested patios, street furniture, parking and traffic flow would be considered. The scope of the plan will extend beyond Commercial Street to incorporate parts of Victoria Crescent, Skinner, Bastion and Wharf streets, and Rudolph said there may be tie-ins with other projects in the downtown, for example Terminal Avenue.

“This is a visioning exercise, but it will lead to some decisions…” Rudolph said. “If we don’t have this, we’re kind of winging it … I feel with the right consultant and a facilitated process, we’ll end up with a very exciting product.”

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Councillors had questions about the funding source, which will be payments in lieu of taxes that have been collected from the Port of Nanaimo, and the need for a consultant. Coun. Erin Hemmens said Reimagine Nanaimo feedback has shown there is an appetite for downtown revitalization and Coun. Ian Thorpe also spoke in favour of the funding request.

“Anything we can do, within reason, to support further revitalization of that area is very worthwhile,” he said. “It’s certainly something that draws people to our city.”

If the finance committee’s recommendation is approved by city council, staff note that the plan could be prepared this coming fall and presented to council next spring.

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