Creasey: Downtown revitalization key to Lacombe's sustainability

City of Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey. Photo supplied

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The City of Lacombe’s Downtown Area Redevelopment and Urban Design Plan (DARP) was adopted in January 2013, and it complements our strategic, sustainability and transportation master plans. The plan sets out a number of guiding principles and strategic priorities for maintaining and revitalizing Lacombe’s more established neighbourhoods, and was developed after extensive consultations within our community.

Over the past few years, we have taken a number of key actions based on the guiding principles of DARP.

Notable accomplishments included infrastructure improvements to our historic downtown. In addition to these critical upgrades, enhancements to the aesthetic character were undertaken as well. Together they improved public safety and helped stimulate private investment in the local economy.

The resulting multiple-award winning Main Street Program was a true revitalization, which took our downtown area from its 19th century roots and readied it for the 21st century. This kind of commitment is necessary to ensure continued prosperity for our downtown core and our community as a whole.

We will continue to work on improving the downtown. The DARP Implementation Plan, developed based on specific concepts and themes raised during the public engagement sessions, identifies a number of concrete actions to be taken over the short, mid and long terms.

I am pleased to report that nine of the 24 action items have been completed since the plan was adopted. These actions include the establishment of DARP Architectural Guidelines in the Land Use Bylaw, establishment of the Heritage Management Program, and the improvements to 50 Ave. as part of the Main Street Program.

The city installed new wayfinding signs in the area and established an ongoing Downtown Storefront Enhancement Program. This initiative provides funding for building improvements, and has been utilized by local businesses such as Sweet Capone’s, Dutchess Flower Company, and others to great effect.

We also created a Wednesday community market, and partnered with the Lacombe Performing Arts and the Echo Lacombe Association to host Music in the Park. This well received event at the Lest We Forget Park has proven to be a big hit with audiences and something many have placed at the top of their summer calendars.

Council also made changes to the Land Use Bylaw. These adjustments allow for the development of bed and breakfasts in certain residential districts and hotels in some commercial districts, including boutique hotels in the downtown area.

Other items we are working on include developing residential construction incentives for seniors and affordable housing, a functional planning study for a southern Hwy 12 bypass linking 34 St. to the west side of the city, proposals for a performing art facility, and identifying land for future a central park or plaza.

We will continue to implement other DARP-supported streetscape improvements on a staged basis. This will occur in conjunction with other major construction on roads or sidewalks is planned. A significant benefit of this approach is the cost savings realized when bundling street-scaping upgrades with substantial capital projects.

I believe that investing in our downtown this way makes long term sense. According to the National Main Street Center, a non-profit organization, every dollar invested in local main street programs over the last 10 years generated $16-33 in new investment in the community. It may be difficult to verify the exact figures, however, I am confident they are positive.

A recently completed Citizen Satisfaction Survey indicated the majority of Lacombe residents rated their quality of life as good or very good. The top factors contributing to this was Lacombe’s small-town atmosphere, friendly people, and our well-preserved historical buildings.

Across North America, interest in living, working, and shopping in downtown areas is growing. Many people would rather live in a smaller, more affordable house in a walkable neighbourhood. They find it important to live in an established neighbourhood with older homes and mature trees, very much like areas that surround our downtown.

Downtowns offer great space for local entrepreneurs to sell and promote local products and services. Small business owners say the “buy local” sentiment is helping them compete with larger companies because shoppers are interested in purchasing goods made closer to their home community.

Then there are the tourism opportunities. Lacombe’s Main Street was recognized as one of the Greatest Places in Canada by the Canadian Institute of Planners. It has also served as the backdrop for the Coors Banquet One Horse Town concert, the Roger’s Hometown Hockey event, and numerous festivals and events featuring our downtown as the cultural hub for the community.

By continuing with the implementation plan, council is demonstrating its commitment to deliver the objectives in DARP. Moreover, the plan will be periodically reviewed to ensure actions, programs and projects meet current needs and demands. This will help ensure our community is on track to a sustainable future.

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