Some thoughts on the new downtown development plan

If you’ve been wondering what is happening with the Town of Slave Lake project of updating its downtown plan, here’s what we’ve come up with.
Laurie Skrynyk at the Town provided an update on the latest downtown plan public input sessions. These happened on a Thursday earlier this month. Here’s what she said:
“We had roughly 30 people attend throughout the day for the Multi-Stakeholder Workshop and the Open House in the evening. The Focus Group Sessions and the Multi-Stakeholder Workshop along with the two Open Houses have provided the Consultant with a good idea as to what the community sees as the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for the Downtown. As well, the work completed in the Workshop provided the Consultant with the vision for the downtown and potential theme ideas. The Consultant will now prepare a draft plan incorporating everything they have heard from Slave Lake. That draft will be presented to Council and the Downtown Steering Committee to see if the Consultant captured the vision and ideas as these groups see it. We are hoping to have draft in April and of course more feedback for the Consultant.”
There you have it.
The other thing we picked up on this topic was from Ali Mouallem, who is participating in the public consultation process – both as an interested downtown business owner and a member of the Chamber of Commerce board. At a meeting last week he said questions being asked at the downtown meetings include: ‘What are we missing? and, ‘How do we get more people downtown?’
One thing that needs to be understood about such a planning process is that the act of coming up with a plan doesn’t necessarily mean anything much is going to happen. The key element is always – or mostly – private investors willing to invest in new businesses or to take a chance on developing property. When that happens, the development guidelines of the municipality kick in and play a role in shaping what the resulting development looks like.
Plans are important because uncontrolled development, unfettered by any vision of how a community should look and work, has been shown to be a bad idea. Willy nilly development, mixed industrial and residential uses – all that stuff that leads to ugliness and lack of safety.
Priorities and realities change, though. Such is the case with downtown Slave Lake. It could be that uses that were taboo 30 years ago (when nobody imagined the Cornerstone) might makes sense now. Certainly more residential above commercial is becoming a part of the downtown picture.
However the new downtown plan turns out – it will be not much more than something on paper without people willing to invest.

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