Vernon, B.C. is relaunching its summer pedestrian plaza, but the plan is controversial.
While some thought last year’s street closure was, at times, “a tremendous success,” others would describe it as “a total bomb.”
To create the plaza, a block of Vernon’s main street is now closed to vehicle traffic through July and August.
The city and the Downtown Vernon Association have partnered to close the 2900 block of 30 Ave. with the hope of adding vibrancy to the downtown core.
Restaurant Owner James Fradley is planning to take advantage of the closure and put tables outside.
“We are excited about the musical and performing arts schedule that is in place [at] lunchtime and evening. I think it will be great for our customers and great for the downtown core,” said Fradley, as he worked on reinforcing the railing for his sidewalk patio.
This is the second time a pedestrian plaza has been tried on this Vernon block. However, last year’s event faced major challenges.
Prior to the 2021 pilot project, B.C. was hit by a deadly heat dome that led many to stay indoors.
That was followed by a harrowing wildfire season that caused smoky conditions.
So how last year’s plaza went depends on who you ask.
“When the weather was bearable and the smoke was not too bad, it was a tremendous success,” said Fradley, who owns The Med Restaurant.
“The shutdown last year didn’t give us an opportunity to coax [the plaza] into its full expression so we are excited about this year. Hopefully, the cooler spring means we will get some great days out here on the plaza.”
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However, across the street at a pawn shop Raven Traders, manager John Harker has a far less rosy opinion of last year’s event.
“When the street was closed, this block was a ghost town just about every day. It picked up a bit in the evenings when most of the businesses were closed,” Harker said.
While restaurants may see a benefit, the loss of parking had a major impact on his business last year, Harker said.
“Last year was a total bomb and I don’t expect this year to be much better. Last year they blamed the failure on a heat dome which we often have in the Okanagan,” said Harker.
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To account for Okanagan heat waves, this year organizers are planning to incorporate umbrellas and a misting station.
Neither the city nor the Downtown Vernon Association made anyone available for an interview on Monday.
The city has budgeted up to $43,000 for the summer plaza.
Programing starts Thursday along with the official kick-off.
The street closure is scheduled to last through to early September.
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