On Tuesday evening hundreds of people will be attending an open house regarding one of the most divisive local issues in recent history — the highway strip mall.
I doubt very much that there is anyone in town who does not have an opinion about “the mall.”
Revelstoke has, for decades, been a city whose commercial retail base has relied almost entirely on small locally owned enterprises. Our community thus far has avoided the inroads made by the powerful chain stores that seem to dominate many towns and cities — particularly on their fringes.
In the eyes of many beholders, here and elsewhere, the strip-mall developments that strangle the approaches to Kelowna, Cranbrook, Calgary and hundreds of other places, are a visual blight. Their hideously bland sameness is an affront to many people who, like me, are proud of Revelstoke’s uniquely beautiful and friendly downtown core. We need to remember that some of Revelstoke’s business owners have served and contributed to the community in many ways over many years. We must ask ourselves:
Can Revelstoke support a third grocery store and a third pharmacy? Yet another coffee shop? Are we throwing our present business owners under the bus?
There are many studies and reports that document the fall of towns as a result of the highway-mall phenomenon gathered together on a well-designed and well-armed website created by opponents of the proposed mall.
On the other hand, perhaps those who see the strip mall as an economic opportunity we can’t afford to miss are correct. A small mall on the highway can represent positive economic investment and act as a magnet for other developments. But it depends on what’s on offer at the mall. Is a supermarket or a national-chain pharmacy going to survive and prosper only by picking off bits and pieces of highway traffic? What will their effect be on the existing supermarkets, pharmacies, and other stores they duplicate? Hall Pacific says it won’t build anything we don’t want; that may or may not be true. How much say will we really have once the deal goes through?
Most Revelstokians would agree that we need investment and business growth. That was a major contributing factor in the election of a new mayor and a fresh City Council. What’s changed? Nothing. We still need new investment and growth. The question now is who will provide it? A chain? Or more small locally owned businesses? Above all, it is imperative that we remain a welcoming community to further attract entrepreneurs and small businesses to our town, and that we strengthen the vitality of our downtown core.
It is important to note that, at this time, Council is only being asked to approve zoning changes that make it possible for Hall Pacific to apply for a permit to develop a mall for its mysterious and as-yet un-named anchor tenants. As I understand it, Council does not have a legitimate reason to say no to this request regarding zoning.
Council is in a difficult position and appears split regarding this issue. They are under intense pressure to swing one way, or the other. I have spoken to many people in town about this very emotional issue; people on both sides are citing reasons their opponents are wrong. Just talk to your neighbour or go to the City website to read the information gathered there. Better yet, come out to the Community Centre on Tuesday night, November 17, at 7 pm to hear the discussion. And be sure, no matter where you stand on this issue, to make your voice heard. Our mayor and Council cannot make the right decision without knowing how we think. And this is a decision that — no matter what — could inevitably change Revelstoke as we know it.