|A woman sits on a retaining wall at City Park. Public opposition to locating an office building inside the park now has city council considering a smaller structure.|
The public backlash against a 16,000-square-foot Tourism Kelowna office in the middle of the downtown park galvanized citizens, who sent more than 100 responses condemning the revitalization plan. At their weekly meeting, councillors acknowledged the proposal got off to a bad start.
"We do care about what the public thought. They spoke, we heard," said Coun. Mohini Singh.
Coun. Luke Stack was more direct.
"The feedback hasn't been good. People don't like what we proposed."
City staff now suggest reducing the size of the tourist building and constructing it along Abbott Street between the intersections at Lawrence and Leon avenues. Coun. Andre Blanleil said its footprint should be no bigger than 6,000 square feet with offices elsewhere downtown.
"A big building is not something people want," he said. "It will gain more green space."
Coun. Robert Hobson agrees the building belongs at the edge of the park, and says it should be pedestrian - not vehicle - friendly. Drive-by tourists still need a place to go for information but can continue to stop at the current tourist office on Harvey Avenue, he said.
"Why not use the existing site, move the Chamber of Commerce elsewhere and use all of the building for tourism?"
Lawn bowlers are upset the new plan turfs them out even though they mow their own lawns, pick up their garbage and keep their eyes on what goes on in the park.
Mayor Walter Gray said the club attracts too few members to a high-profile piece of the park. He suggested they use Astroturf on a downtown highrise building instead.
"We're not trying to get rid of lawn-bowling. They have to work at increasing membership," Gray said.
The concept plan is a work in progress, one that will take 10 years to complete. There's no money to pay for the renovations, Gray said, so this is an exercise in gauging public feedback. The plan has attracted 2,700 online visits - an "incredible" amount, he said.
The proposal calls for a one-way driving loop around the park reminiscent of a similar route decades ago. The narrow roadway would start at Lawrence Avenue and end at Leon.
The extra pedestrian traffic could help revitalize the first few blocks of those streets, said Coun. Colin Basran. Hobson and Gray prefer widening the entrance at Leon so traffic uses only one access both in and out.
That would leave Veendam Walkway and Gardens in place, saving considerable expense if the current plan to relocate it remains.
The plan calls for downsizing part of the main parking area and the old parking lot around the former pavilion. Parking stalls would be peppered along the driving loop, allowing people with mobility problems to access most areas of the park, said Coun. Gail Given.
The water park and skateboard park could also become green space, said city staffer Pat McCormick.
It's not certain whether the park would see a net loss of green space after the changes.
Coun. Gerry Zimmermann commended city staff for their "fantastic" work.
"It's too bad the good work you did got lost in the size of your building," he said. "I agree it should be downtown. I'm not convinced it should be in the park."