Rev. Jonathan Asmus of Lutheran Redeemer Church stands along Brown Road in West Kelowna, which closed in late August for a $3.1-million facelift. The street reopened Wednesday. The congregation plans to spruce up the outside of their building that faces the new-look street.
It makes for a pricey stroll, but it's money well spent in the estimation of Graham Kingwell.
"It's a lot better street than it was before," Kingwell said on a frigid Thursday morning as he hustled along Brown Road delivering newspapers. "It's got sidewalks now, at least."
New sidewalks may seem like a low standard for beautification, but they do represent a real stride forward in beleaguered downtown Westbank.
The sidewalks are part of a planned transformation - albeit one that will come about slowly and at a great cost - that should see the downtown become a much more vibrant, pedestrian-friendly commercial and residential precinct.
Other features designed to help summon this long-sought future for Westbank include ornamental street lighting, landscaped boulevards, street furniture and the burying of overhead power lines.
It's a revitalization path that's been long since tread by many municipalities, but Westbank, despite its century-plus history of settlement, has only been part of a proper city since West Kelowna was incorporated six years ago.
Before then, frugality was uppermost in the minds of most Westbankers, who twice voted down incorporation largely for fear of tax increases. The result was a community that had an appealing agricultural aspect, but one which also had a ramshackle central business district.
The presence of Highway 97 running right through Westbank gave priority to car-oriented shops and services. It's actually unusual to see anyone obviously just strolling along Main Street, so unpleasant is the walking environment with traffic whizzing by.
Realizing that the highway is never going anywhere any time soon, West Kelowna council now sees the future of Westbank on the side streets that branch off it.
A stretch of Brown Road, closed since late August and reopened on Wednesday, was the first to get the beauty treatment, at a total cost of $3.1 million. The budget also involves upgrades to sewer and water lines.
"This represents the first of several facelifts for streets in downtown Westbank," said West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater.
The blocks along Brown north of the highway have three churches, a pub, a medical clinic and two new, large residential developments. Along with the many homes in the area, they make for an interesting neighbourhood, and the new-look Brown Road connects them together in an attractive fashion.
"I think these kind of revitalized side streets like Brown Road will help to give us a better sense of community, which up to now has been sort of missing," Findlater said.
Aside from being just a more pleasant place in which to walk, the streets could be occasionally closed entirely to traffic to support events such as farmers markets, craft fairs and other community gatherings.
Elliott Road between the opposing lanes of Highway 97 will get a new look next year with development of a transit mall, and future pedestrian-centric upgrades are planned for other stretches of Brown Road.
To be sure, the streetscape improvements on their own won't solve Westbank's obvious challenges. One strip mall on a side street has eight businesses and four empty shops, and the highway itself has a depressing number of vacant lots and empty buildings.
But the beautification projects are still a necessary part of Westbank's evolution from a gasoline alley to the residential and commercial heart of West Kelowna.
At Lutheran Redeemer Church on Brown Road, the congregation already has plans to spruce up the outside of their building that faces the new-look street.
A large painting of the nativity scene is to be installed in one of the church windows. It's the first such piece of art to adorn the building, which has been a Lutheran church for 30 years.
"We know there will be a lot more people walking along Brown Road now," said Rev. Jonathan Asmus. "We thought this would be a good opportunity to share our message with them."