What should City Council do?

David F. Rooney
David F. Rooney

What should City Council do when the Mackenzie Avenue merchants come knocking on their door on Tuesday? Should they offer them compensation of some sort? Or should they just say, “Sorry,” and promise to do a better job next time?

If you’ve been following the merchants’ complaints, as chronicled in The Revelstoke Current for the past month, then you know they say their business has been down 30 to 50 per cent over the period that Grizzly Plaza has been extended, leaving each of them tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket. You also know, from my story posted late on Monday night, Mackenzie Avenue merchants to press Council for “compensation”, that they are ticked off and want the City to make good their losses in some way. Perhaps not cold, hard cash. Perhaps some kind of roll back on business taxes or business licences. Perhaps something else. But something. Anything.

It’s a tough call for Mayor David Raven and the Councillors. On the one hand the City did advertise the construction project in advance in another, unnamed, newspaper. But judging by the complaints of the business owners in the downtown core, construction appears to have caught the business owners unawares. I’ll be surprised if Mayor Raven or one of the Councillors doesn’t point out that little fact during Tuesday’s meeting.

And it’s true. It was advertised. It’s also true that citizens have a duty to inform themselves about what is really going on in their community. However, municipal officials and members of Council have known for years that those gray, boring-looking ads in that other newspaper simply don’t attract most people’s attention. With that in mind, Council and staff should have done the smart thing and been pro-active about informing people that life as they knew along Mackenzie Avenue was about to be disrupted.

However, they didn’t do that. And that, as they must now realize, was a mistake.

To be fair to the City, it’s not as though major construction projects occur here on a monthly or even an annual basis. So it might be reasonable to cut them some slack. However, anyone who was here a few years ago must remember the way tempers flared when traffic across the Illecillewaet Bridge was slowed to a crawl for construction along Airport Way. It was obvious then, as it is now, that the City needs a communication strategy when major construction is planned in the city. And by that I mean construction projects that have a direct impact on the ability of people to shop, drive, take their kids to school, get from one side of the river to the other or even just across a downtown street.

It’s simply not enough to rely on ads that cause people’s eyes to glaze over or the issuance of a letter three days before construction begins.

Having said that, what should the City do?

Certainly it should apologize. An apology can help smooth ruffled feathers. Will it offer compensation? I don’t know, but I doubt it.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Devitt doubts it, too. But he did have a couple of pretty good ideas:

1) the City could fast-track any plans merchants might come up with for some kind of street party-cum-sidewalk sale on Mackenzie Avenue later this summer or early in the fall; and

2) it could offer merchants a break on their business taxes, say $1,000, if they agree to use the money to help better market the City.

What shouldn’t the City do? These are bad ideas:

1) ignore the merchants; or

2) tell them their losses are due to the recession (they weren’t — not when tourism here is up over last year [for more on that see our story headlined We need a new tourism strategy, which appears in the business section).

Trying to balance our vision of the future with everyday realities is always a tough and often thankless job. But Council can find a solution that works. Isn’t that one of the things that Revelstoke is best known for?