What’s best for our city; the short view or the long?
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
Was the closure of the Cranbrook Target store a wake up call as far as city planning is concerned?
Think back. A long way back when Cranbrook once had a thriving downtown with lots of busy stores and businesses on Baker Street not to mention some architectural and heritage gems like the old Court House, the Post Office, the ornate YMCA building and others. Downtown was a happening place then. Quite a change from now despite the best efforts of the DBA and others.
So what triggered the change? Well in the 1960’s Cranbrook was booming. The pulp mill had just been built, the Salmo-Creston Highway opened and investment was pouring into the city. Then the Mayor and Council of the day had a better idea. They would build Cranbrook’s first shopping mall and show the rest of the province just what a new Babylon Cranbrook was becoming. And so they did right across Baker Street almost cutting the downtown in half. It didn’t make sense from an accessibility point of view and over the years some major downtown streets had to be torn up and realigned to make up for this, but it worked for a while at least until a bigger mall was built way out on Cranbrook Street which soon became known by everyone as “The Strip” and attracted business growth in its direction at the expense of the downtown.
By the time yours truly arrived in 1997, The Strip was effectively “THE DOWNTOWN” as many businesses including restaurants, retail outlets, car dealerships and even one bank either sprang up or relocated on The Strip and the downtown withered on the vine, a faint shadow of its glory days. But at least we had The Strip. The travel writers may not have liked it, but it was a damn busy street as the tire grooves worn into the pavement attested.
Around the year 2000, the Council of the day had a chance to revive the downtown a bit by approving a giant Safeway at the now declining Cranbrook Mall. However, little came of it because Council approved Safeway’s plan to separate itself from the rest of the mall and demolish part of the old mall that used to be physically connected to the former Safeway premises. And Council also missed a golden opportunity to fully re-open Baker Street, instead opting for a lane on one side of the store complete with speed bumps. And the effect on Cranbrook Mall was devastating with store after store closing until recently when two clinics relocated in the dying mall and attracted some badly needed new tenants like the pharmacy that just moved in. Let’s hope the trend continues.
However the street that’s in danger now, incredible as it may seem, is our beloved Strip. Earlier this year, the Council of which I was a member went eagerly along with a recommendation of the City Planning Dept. to allow two car dealerships to vacate the Strip and move across the tracks to the industrial park. All council members with the exception of yours truly went along with the planning department’s recommendation. I opposed it because one car dealership had already moved to the north end of the strip and almost off it and now two other dealerships were going to move off the Strip completely, sparking a troubling trend that could see the Strip abandoned like the downtown with large empty lots filled with weeds, broken glass and garbage. Not a very welcoming sight for tourists or anyone else.
And now Target is closing, which will leave 100,000 sq. feet of empty floor space and more than 100 jobs gone from The Strip, the biggest job loss in our city for a long, long time. No one needs to be told this is not a healthy situation.
So what’s my point? It’s simply this. Maybe the car dealers have some perfectly good reasons for abandoning The Strip. Target obviously thinks it has some good reasons for abandoning Canada. But what’s City Council’s role in all this? Is it to cater to the wants of business no matter what? Or is it to take the longer view of what’s best for the city as a whole? In other words planning and vision.
Dear reader I leave these important questions to you and I wish City Council good luck in its deliberations.