Town planners are dusting off the books and putting old studies into action with a rigorous 10-month downtown action plan.
Rather than rewrite the book, these older studies — which have mostly not been used — will be the building blocks for this action plan, explained Tim Schmidt, director of planning and development for the Town of Ponoka. He and town staff elaborated on the bold plan Thursday, Aug. 25 during council’s committee of the whole meeting.
Members of the Downtown Revitalization Committee were in attendance to show their support of the project.
Schmidt said this plan, which has the support of the committee and administration, is meant to take advantage of the already paid for reports outlined over the years. Those reports include the 2000 Main Street Initiative, the 2007 Retooling Downtown Ponoka (Avi Friedman Report), the 2012 Community First Impression peer review report, the 2013 updated Municipal Development Plan (MDP) and the 2015 Strategic Plan.
While the Avi Friedman report is mostly about the downtown core, said Schmidt, it also captures the Battle River in its recommendations. So far, the way-finding signage approved for this year is the only action taken from that report.
“All the works done to date have value,” said Schmidt.
This plan will take into account those reports and using already paid for resources through Parkland Community Planning Services and with in house skills, Schmidt feels the 10-month timeline is manageable.
“We have the commitment to use all the staffing and resources,” he explained.
Assisting with the process will be the downtown revitalization committee, that will eventually put a recommendation to council some time next year. “They’re going to be champions of the project as well.”
Making that all happen will entail a comprehensive communications focus so residents have a say in the process with interviews, open houses and surveys. The ultimate goal is to create a concrete plan, from existing studies, before the next election so that administration can take the next step and implement the plan.
To ensure all the steps are followed, Schmidt said planners are even looking at utilizing smart phone apps through Telus to get more input and feedback. Eventually concepts and plans will be drafted and Schmidt expects some changes to the town’s land use bylaw will need to be made. In addition, he sees a draft marketing and draft parking strategy coming to council by the end of the project.
For now, Schmidt was able to take advantage of unused funds from casual salaries being over budgeted by $10,000, another $20,000 from the Froman Business Park area structure plan, $25,000 from the downtown programming and promotion and $10,000 out of the downtown lighting budget.
The biggest expense, Schmidt estimates, will come from the community engagement sessions and drafting the planning documents.
Schmidt said at the Sept. 13 council meeting he will ask council for a commitment of $57,000 from the 2017 budget so the plan can come to fruition.
His biggest concern is if the project isn’t committed to, it may sit a few more years before anything is done. “It’s going to take commitment. We have that.”
Coun. Teri Underhill suggested since the other planning documents have already been done, Schmidt has been able to ensure a reasonable cost in the project. She added that typically starting a new project similar to this could cost a municipality $300,000 or more.
CAO Albert Flootman is pleased with the plan saying improving the downtown area is something council has been talking about through its entire term in office.
Coun. Carla Prediger added her approval of the project. “We need to put our money where our mouth is.”
“Now we have a plan that’s very tangible.”
No decisions were made at the meeting as committee of the whole is only for information.