Downtown Squamish is dying, or at the very least, badly wounded.
Depending on who you talk to, the problem is either self-inflicted, the result of council inaction, or a much deeper plot to convert the area to industry.
Since December of last year, when the Pharmasave drug store moved out, a number of storefront operations in the downtown core have closed their doors. In the past six months, six operations have closed. Downtown merchants claim there are others teetering on the brink of insolvency.
Adding to the loss was cancellation of the Royal Hudson steam train, which brought several hundred visitors to the downtown core daily through the summer months. The collapse last week of the softwood lumber negotiations may further exacerbate the situation.
Several studies have been conducted into the downtown area, which has struggled for many years to attract the thousands of visitors a day passing by on the highway to Whistler. A study into the concept of downtown revitalization was conducted around 1980 by Dr. Laverne Kindree and Bill Manson. In 1992, a study of the Mamquam Blind Channel area, which borders downtown Squamish, envisioned Granville Island-style development for the core. And the Squamish 2000 plan was presented by consultants two years ago, raising expectations among merchants that some solutions to their plight were at hand. To date, council has not yet endorsed the plan.
One of the reasons for the lack of action, cited by several council members, is cost. One of the main costs in the plan is replacing the outdated downtown sewer treatment plant with a pump station to the Mamquam plant.
"I know it would be irresponsible to embark on that plan right now," said Mayor Corinne Lonsdale. "It would cost $13 million, and we cant afford it. We can only afford it incrementally. We arent in a position to acquire the lands from B.C. Rail and Interfor, and one of the landowners is not really supportive of the plan. On the issue of track relocation, BCR is not in a financial position to be able to relocate the tracks at this time."
Lonsdale said the Squamish 2000 plan doesnt have the effect on Cleveland Avenue that it does on the downtown south area, which she said is moving forward, with a development permit recently issued for a new building for Silverfoot Active Wear.
"I dont see us being in the way of anyone wanting to develop down there," the mayor said. "Cattermole Slough will go as people come to us with development applications. Whats happening on Cleveland Avenue is a sign of the economic times, and thats not just in Squamish, its provincial. People dont have a lot of disposable income, and many of those businesses relied on disposable income. I truly believe that when the provincial economy turns around, Squamish will as well."