By David F. Rooney
Some might call it the Big Dig, but for business owners on Mackenzie Avenue, the Grizzly Plaza Extension Project is simply “a gong show.”
And it’s not going to get better for at least two more weeks and possibly as long as three. The City’s Chief Administrative Officer, Ross McPhee, says the project has, for various reasons, been held up past its June 21 completion date.
“We’re aiming at July 21,” he said last Thursday. “We want it clear by Homecoming. The bulk of the work should be done in advance of that date.”
That’s cold comfort for Revelstokians.
Canvas the proprietors of the businesses between First and Third Streets and you’ll hear a range of comments tinged with everything from polite resignation to outright anger.
“It’s pretty scary,” says Patty Campbell, owner of Conversations. “If we lose July we’ve lost the season. Right now, I can’t even bring in $300 on Sundays.”
The monumental mess that is Mackenzie Avenue these days is not only causing tourists to wonder if they should have come here but is forcing shoppers to think twice before venturing downtown. Parking is tight in the city’s core and trying to get from A to B has, on some days, forced people to navigate through back alleys for one or two blocks.
Vanessa Smith, the owner of Grizzly Books doesn’t mince words when she talks about the project’s impact on businesses downtown: “It’s a Gong Show.”
It may be that, but Smith and the rest of the business owners on Mackenzie also know that — when it’s done — the Grizzly Plaza Expansion will be an immense benefit, proving ample motivation for local residents and tourists to go downtown… and spend money or just enjoy the atmosphere.
“It is kind of frustrating right now,” says Jessica Shifton of Jus Juiced. “But I am looking forward to it when it opens.”
John Devitt, executive director of the Revelstoke Chamber of Commerce, said “it can only help tourism in Revelstoke — when it’s done.”
“Tourism was down 4.5% in May and that’s well over the province’s average decline that month of 1.5%,” he said. “I know the City can’t plan for everything but this is our busiest season the year. I don’t know what options the City has beyong pushing ahead and finishing it as quickly as possible.”
Jason Shoji of Intense Audio Video acknowledges the future benefits, too, but he is still boiling mad about the delay and the very little notice that businesses were given — three days — before construction began. The fact that his shop’s front door was completely blocked off from the sidewalk also left him livid.
“Are there penalties for that?” he asked. “This has cost me money. The City should consider a tax break for businesses that were inconvenienced by all this.”
The hold-up on completing the project has been attributed to problems with the water pipes buried beneath Mackenzie and, as many people have heard, taking delivery of the wrong-coloured decorative paving bricks.
“Right now nobody knows who’s to blame for the screwup with the bricks,” said one City Councillor. “Everybody — the City, the contractor and the supplier — is pointing fingers at everybody else.”
That may be so and many people do like to have someone to blame but if you’re a shopper or a businessowner on Mackenzie what you really want right now is a fast conclusion to the project.