During the special budget meeting on Dec. 9, a scaled back capital expenditure of $275,000 for a “bulb-out” at the 52nd Street and 48th Avenue intersection was pitched to council as an amendment to the original proposed 2014 capital budget, which had called for the completion of two bulb-outs in 2014 at a cost of $550,000.
Coun.(s) Andrew Prokop, Joe Strojwas and Mayor Henk De Vlieger voted in favour of postponing the project to 2015, while Coun.(s) Rick Popadynetz and Laura Ross-Giroux opposed the motion. Coun.(s) Randy Sparks and Jack Brewin were absent from the meeting.
“I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I brought this up before,” said Coun. Andrew Prokop, prior to the vote. “I understand what’s been done thus far looks great. But I just have to ask again about the practicality of that beautification, just in comparison to where else these funds may be better used.”
CAO Greg Birch defended the value of the project, while commenting completing a final intersection would at least leave 48th Avenue without a missing intersection in the heart of the downtown.
“If you go to a town — just considering downtown areas of where I like to go — if I stop in a town, I’m impressed by what the downtown area looks like. It has an impression on me. I’m not ready to buy an argument that they don’t have value. I actually think downtown beautification does have value. Secondly, we want to go and finish that last one in the middle, and then maybe retrench. We think it would look odd if we don’t finish that middle intersection off, in the heart of everything.”
Planning manager Cory Armfelt was also on side with the project, indicating various contacts in the downtown area have offered support for the projects.
“The individuals that I’ve talked to, two of them that have businesses downtown, like the concept, and from the Communities in Bloom perspective, they also are in support of the concept. There’s a business downtown that recently asked if they could in fact install their own street trees in front of their business. To me, that speaks volumes that there is a benefit to beautification of, specifically, Taber’s downtown. This is of course council’s decision, but I think it would look odd if there were bulb-outs done, and then one intersection without a bulb-out done. That’s why we’re suggesting we go in there, just to complete the avenue so all of the intersections are lined up.”
Mayor Henk De Vlieger was interested in hearing directly from business owners in the downtown area before moving forward with another project.
“I like the idea of meeting first with the stakeholders downtown. I think it’s a good idea to do that before we move on with another bulb-out. I hope part of the discussion will be on beautifying the buildings themselves, because we’re investing and making all of these corners nice. I think it would be nice to see more.”
Armfelt noted the municipality is limited in the options it can pursue with regard to the actual buildings in the downtown area.
“The challenge that a municipality has is we can only really impact the build environment. The merchants are going to do what the merchants are going to do. The merchants have to be behind initiatives.”
Completing a final intersection on 48th Avenue would leave downtown business owners little incentive to improve their own properties, according to Coun. Strojwas.
“If you finish that last one, that whole street is done, and the businesses are going to say you’ve done the whole street anyway. There’s no incentive for them to want to do anything for their properties. You need to beat them up with a stick sometimes, or hold them up for hostage. I hate to say it, but if you complete it for them, why would they care? The whole street is done.”
Echoing the comments of Mayor De Vlieger, Coun. Prokop expressed interest in hearing more from downtown business owners.
“For me personally, I’d like to see what the business people are saying about what you’re suggesting. Obviously it takes time.”
Coun. Popadynetz suggested the town should complete at least one more intersection and then reconsider the rest of the proposed vision for the project.
“I’d like to see it in the budget, but one thing I really hate to see is projects unfinished. This town is full of them — Ken McDonald Sportsfield, for one. Continually we don’t finish a project. I’d like to get this done — I agree with administration, get it done — and move on to something else. If we don’t want to do it, we don’t have to do it, it’s a capital project. I think we should just leave it in.”
Not including the project in the 2014 capital budget — when it could still be approved or rejected by council at a later date — could be viewed as a short-sighted approach to a potentially valuable project, according to Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux.
“I agree with Councillor Popadynetz, I think it should be left in, and we can make the decision later. Who knows, perhaps the business community downtown may want us to finish it. At least we’ll have the option when the time comes.”
The proposed 2014 capital budget is still awaiting the final approval of council.