Mackenzie Avenue merchants to press Council for “compensation”

By David F. Rooney

Business owners along Mackenzie Avenue and part of West First Street plan to ask City Council to compensate them in some way for the losses — 30 to 50 per cent of normal sales — they say they incurred during the Grizzly Plaza Expansion Project.

Twenty-one people met at the Village Idiot for 90 minutes early Monday evening to reach a consensus on what to say when 12 representatives attend Council’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, July 28, at 3:30 p.m.

That consensus includes the following points:

1) All businesses appreciate the fact that the expansion of Grizzly Plaza from First to Third Streets will eventually prove to be beneficial for businesses and the community as a whole;

2) All businesses along Mackenzie Avenue suffered significant financial hardship as a result of the project, which was supposed to have been concluded by June 22 but will not now be finished until July 23 because of problems with the decorative bricks and the subterranean pipes below Mackenzie;

3) Their individual losses range between $20,000 and $50,000, or 30 to 50 per cent of normal sales activity;

4) The merchants believe the City fumbled its responsibility to communicate clearly and effectively with the business community and citizens in the run up to the start of construction and beyond;

5) That City Council — not City staff — does not really care about the concerns of the business community; and

6) The City of Revelstoke has a duty to compensate Mackenzie Avenue and other close-in businesses for the losses they suffered.

That compensation could be a tax break, direct financial remuneration or a move to pay for the clean up and repairs that many, perhaps even most, businesses require.

“It (the project) affected all the businesses along the street differently,” said Joel Asher, owner of the Village Idiot. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking for compensation.”

While it is fair to say that most business owners who attended the meeting want to see some kind of offer from the City, some are at best ambivalent.

“I’m not expecting compensation but anything they could do would be appreciated,” said Josee Zimanyi, co-owner of the Modern Bakery.

She said she would like to see some kind of event — perhaps a licenced street party or festival along Mackenzie — that would help merchants recoup some of their losses. If any such plan is drawn up the City “should fast-track it,” Zimanyi said.

Perhaps the most damning sentiment expressed was the conviction that City Council let down businesses that rely heavily on accessibility to the downtown core for their livelihood.

Gary Sulz of Brandon Bowers Funeral Home said his building was physically damaged during the construction process and that when he complained “members of City Council just laughed and walked away.”

He said he does not expect City Council to do the right thing.

“City Council has a responsibility to us,” said Bruce Ross, owner of Bad Paul’s. “They are elected officials. They disregarded our concerns and ran roughshod over us. You can’t operate a city this way. It’s their responsibility to do the job right.”

This concern emanated from an apparent lack of communication between the City and the businesses strung along the avenue. While the City did advertise, in advance, its intention to proceed with the project, business owners say they were caught by surprise when they received a letter on the Friday before construction began telling them the avenue was going to be ripped apart that Monday.

The noise, dust, massive inconvenience and fencing was bad enough; the public perception that everything was closed — or virtually inaccessible — was the final straw for some owners.

Lisa Fowlie of the Dollar Store said she received endless daily calls asking if she was open. Despite her assurances, many of her regular local customers failed to shop at her store.

Pat Campbell of Conversations said signage and advertising might have helped, but the City did not erect any signs telling people that shops and cafes along Mackenzie were still open for business. And not just Mackenzie. Mona Treber of Energy Matters Canada, which is at 110 West first Street, said her sales declined 50 per cent every time that intersection of Mackenzie with West First Street was closed off.

“People would see the fences and assume it was completely blocked so they wouldn’t come down,” she said.

David and Lesley Evans of the Nickelodeon Mechanical Music Museum said they experienced the same effect.

Some business owners, like Vanessa Smith of Grizzly Books and Jason Shoji of Intense Audio Video, did write to City Hall expressing their anger and concern but say they did not receive any reply for weeks.

Deenie Ottenbreit, owner of Chantilly Kitchen, Bed and Bath, asked business owners to remember that while their losses might seem high right now they should remember that 2008 was an exceptionally good year for downtown businesses and they all prospered.

“I have really tried to keep a positive attitude,” she said. “Business-wise I’m down, oh, 19 per cent but I had a very good year last year.”

Ottenbreit, who is president of the Chamber of Commerce, said that agency has been lobbying Council for tax relief. Business taxes went up seven per cent this year.