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Squamish merchants want to revitalize downtown



The property owners and merchants in downtown Squamish have voted overwhelmingly to revitalize their district and to establish a formal group of stakeholders to lead the project.

The downtown area of Squamish has been a topic of heated debate for several years and other developments in Squamish such as the waterfront development and the approval of a new Wal-Mart store have only helped intensify that debate.

Last Monday approximately 100 people met with Squamish Councillor Jeff Dawson and Dan McRae from Community Futures to discuss the results of a survey conducted in the downtown area.

The survey included the opinions of 130 people, 73 per cent of those people were tenants.

The survey clearly reflected a desire to work on the aesthetics and attractions in the downtown area, but it also highlighted a dramatic downturn in business confidence.

In question two of the survey the interviewees were asked to rate the business environment in downtown Squamish and 38 per cent of them said it was "weak"; 30 per cent said it was "very weak".

Many of the people surveyed said they wanted their businesses to have complete "facelifts", some wanted to renovate and others wanted to look at the possibility of demolishing the buildings.

Big picture developments such as the Olympics and Highway 99 upgrades were discussed as well as pricing and lengthening the hours of operation to better cater to tourists.

But other, more detailed plans concerning the downtown experience were also recorded in the survey, such as the idea of building a weir on Blind Channel so tourists would not have to withstand the stench of the mud flats when the tide is out.

McRae said once the project was refined it would be financially supported by the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification initiative.

"The first step now is for some more broader based community consultation… and a strategic plan," McRae said.

"The vast majority of people who came to the meeting put their names on a contact sheet to be involved with the process so there was a tremendous amount of support there.

"The first thing we had to do was conduct a study to get some opinions and to see if there was some consensus to revitalize the downtown.

"Now that we know how people feel we can start working on the next steps and I think it’s important this happens relatively quickly."

McRae said the most pleasing aspect of the survey and the meeting was that people were open and willing to share new ideas.

"I think the most positive thing is that people are working together and creating relationships and they’re the fundamental building blocks in a project like this."

Jane Iverson, who is a merchant in the downtown area and a community activist, said the survey and the meeting last Monday represented a positive approach to fixing the downtown.

"One of the messages that was very clear is that we must define our uniqueness," Iverson said.

"We need to build something that the community is proud of and if the community likes it, everybody will like it."

Iverson said there could be no doubting the support for a revitalization plan and the desire for the formation of an organizing body.

"The focus is now on what we can do and not on what we can’t change," she said.

"But we need some kind of formal organization (to lead the downtown initiative) and we need someone to co-ordinate it because the merchants are often too busy just being merchants."

The next meeting concerning the downtown district of Squamish is expected within the next two months.

Meantime, the same kind of revitalization project is also happening in Pemberton. The next meeting on that project will be on Tuesday, April 13 in the Pemberton Community Hall at 6.30 p.m.