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Pemberton downtown could complement Whistler

Preliminary designs for enhancement strategy show open-air market and piazza



Enhancing Pemberton's downtown could increase the community's appeal as a complement to Whistler, a consultant working with the village said Friday.

Michael von Hausen, president of White Rock-based MVH Urban Planning and Design Inc., is working with the Village of Pemberton on its Downtown Enhancement Strategy, a plan to turn the areas around Frontier Street and elsewhere into a vibrant and functional focal point for the community.

Formerly a planner with the City of Vancouver, von Hausen is facilitating outreach sessions, presenting the principles of successful downtowns to Pemberton residents. And he sees big potential for a village that's currently in the process of updating its Official Community Plan.

Ultimately, he said, the redevelopment of Pemberton's downtown could help make it a good complement to Whistler, attractive for tourists who are looking for something outside the resort.

"After a few days, they want to look for a unique experience and Pemberton could provide that unique experience," von Hausen said. "Not compete but complement Whistler in different ways, actually have a rustic, small town feel.

"The idea is not to compete but really complement in the region, so it really comes forward as the village in the valley that is a very charming place to be."

There are a few simple principles, von Hausen said, that make for a vibrant downtown. Businesses have to be supported by the local population and the area has to serve as a hub for people to meet and socialize.

About 20 attendees at stakeholder workshops and a community open house have indicated they desire a sustainable downtown with a mix of land uses at increased densities. Attendees also expressed a desire for a downtown to be more pedestrian-, bike- and stroller-accessible and to share "Pemberton's authentic identity."

The village went back to the community on July 14 and 15 with preliminary designs based on those consultations. Those designs show a walkable downtown with two new features that stand out: a piazza-like patio and seating area that replaces a parking lot next to the Pemberton Hotel and an open-air market hall located next to the Terrastone building. There are also plans for an adventure centre to be located next to the Greyhound station.

Asked about the patio, von Hausen said it could serve as an "incredible front door to the mountains" because it faces Mount Currie.

"It's a sheltered space, it's got good sun orientation and it's got an incredible view of the mountains," he said. "It's also got what we call active edges. Two or three coffee shops are already there, the grocery store is just at the corner. So essentially, that square is an extension of existing uses and a great place to sit and socialize."

As for the market hall, the intention behind the building is to serve as a kind of public space for residents - something ostensible missing from the current downtown. The concept for Pemberton Market Hall is it could look like a barn and be built with donated materials. Once built it could host movie nights, community gatherings and even the Pemberton Barn Dance.

"It would be a gathering place for the community," von Hausen said.

"What's key to building a great downtown, in fact, it has to have great, what I call great public realm. It has to have great streetscapes, parks and essentially be inviting to people and have a sense of quick orientation."

MVH Urban Planning and Design is currently preparing an implementation plan that it will deliver back to the village for discussion with staff and council, likely for a September meeting.

Caroline Lamont, director of planning services for the Village of Pemberton, said the strategy, once adopted, will "not sit on the shelf" and will have an implementation schedule that ensures it gets into the Pemberton's Official Community Plan and Strategic Plan.

How it materializes in the community remains to be seen.