With our municipal council gearing up to pour more time and money into boosting the sagging fortunes of downtown Squamish, the debate about the destiny of this contentious patch of commercial real estate is intensifying.
Council is getting mixed reviews for an incentive strategy that includes tax exemptions, development fee reductions, and beautification projects.
Local developer Doug Day believes downtown is a crapshoot fraught with financial uncertainty. The area already has at least a dozen mixed-use condo sites with development permits. “A developer could start with a free condo mixed-use site downtown, and be ‘underwater’ financially before putting a shovel in the ground,” he warns. That situation will not change by lowering development cost charges and taxes, or “sprinkling a few pieces of art around,” according to Day.
Despite numerous downtown success stories, many observers point to a discouraging montage of shuttered restaurants and short-lived retail ventures with a proliferation of second-hand stores tossed into the mix.
Squamish residents Fred and Andrea Gailus are convinced a movie/live production theatre is a first step toward downtown revitalization. Local political commentator Wolfgang Wittenburg suggests that “maybe we should all sponsor a family from equally desperate Greece to not only get ‘our’ popular Greek restaurant back, but to also begin with the process of recreating much needed ‘buzz’ in Downtown.”
Brad Hodge, an IT consultant and former Squamish council candidate, believes “if we want downtown to truly thrive, and by extension attract visitors, we have to convince ourselves that the place is worth visiting. That won’t happen when it all goes dark after 4 p.m., and the long line of empty commercial storefronts tells the tale of how much activity has gone, or shifted further up the highway.”
While district officials try to put more zip into downtown, Garibaldi Village has emerged as a bustling community hub offering easy highway access, ample parking, a broad retail selection and a generous assortment of eateries anchored by Boston Pizza and Rickey’s All Day Grill, with Sushi Sen and Wigan Pier just around the corner.
Kurt Mueller, whose daughter lives in Squamish, says what is required is “more than a couple of flower baskets...you need to make it an attraction.” He points to Chemainus, on Vancouver Island, as a successful template for downtown enhancement.
Eric Armour, the proprietor of Trinity Romance, encourages downtown merchants to branch into e-commerce, so “they’re available 24/7, and not solely reliant on the local economy.”
Jane Iverson spent nine years operating a gallery, gift and antique shop on Cleveland Avenue before throwing in the towel. She notes that although lots of local residents give lip service to making downtown the cultural hub of Squamish, most “have failed to put their money where their mouth is by supporting the unique businesses that are established there already.”