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Banff council denies delay for Bear Street construction project

The motion put forward asked that the Town begin construction in April 2021 rather than 2020 to allow for more communication as well as planning to ensure businesses in the area aren’t negatively impacted.
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The Bear Street construction project in Banff is set to start in 2020.

BANFF – Town of Banff councillors have voted against a proposed amendment from Bison Court business owners to delay a planned construction project on Bear Street for another year.

The motion put forward asked that the Town begin construction in April 2021 rather than 2020 to allow for more communication as well as planning to ensure businesses in the area aren’t negatively impacted.

However, council members indicated the project has been delayed enough as it. Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said the planned construction has been on the table for almost four years and approving the motion would only further delay other construction projects.

“I think it’s important for the gallery to understand… we don’t just put projects on the table all willy-nilly,” said Sorensen.

“We have a capital plan, they’re budgeted for. If we were to delay this project, say for a year, well then that’s going to impact another project in 2021, and we don’t have time to move the 2021 project to 2020. Capital planning is a long process that we go through every single year at budget time, and, for me, I’m not prepared to disturb that flow. This project has been on trial for many years. From my perspective it’s time to get it done.”

Sophie Sparks who was representing “the businesses of the Bison Courtyard,” which amounts to 15 businesses, put the requested amendments forward. In the prepared package she provided, it states, “currently, Bear Street businesses are negatively impacted by three major construction projects at 205 Bear Street, 217 Lynx Street (Homestead Inn site) and 204 Wolf Street (Timbers site). The proposed timeline for the Shared Street project leaves little to no time for our businesses to recover before the next major disruption.”

“Our goals are twofold: to mitigate the impact of the construction phase of this project on the businesses on and around Bear Street, and to have the finished space serve the needs of all users and create a thriving district that elevated the experience of downtown Banff,” it reads.

Darren Enns, development services manager for the Town of Banff, said a marketing and communications plan will come before council during a service review later this year. 

"What we always said to council was the budget that we're working off is sort of what we call a bricks and mortar budget ... and there's going to be a number of add-ons that are going to be brought to council during service reviews of this year and those include a communications and marketing plan for Bear Street," he said. 

"It might be a lesson for us on whether or not we include those in budgets in the future. Other road reconstruction projects like Cave Avenue, which took place a number of years ago, didn't have a construction mitigation plan attached to it and so knowing which projects that need one of these mitigation plans is always a challenge but certainly in the downtown it seems essential."

Enns said the concept plan and redevelopment of all downtown Banff streets really started in the early '90s. 

"This project has been envisioned since 1992 when the downtown enhancement concept plan was adopted by council," said Enns. 

"Really to create a more pedestrian friendly downtown, back in the early '90s we had a lot more of a vehicular oriented downtown and so council of the day and subsequent councils have intended to transition to more pedestrian-friendly amenitites in the downotwn core over time."

Enns said the biggest example was the Banff Refreshing project on the 100, 200 and 300 blocks of downtown which proved to be a success and for the last four years, the Town of Banff has been doing what he called a woonerf trial on Bear Street. 

"We've been trialing these shared woonerf street ideas on Bear Street with the view to use them as a template for the eventual permanent redevelopment of Bear Street which is what's before council right now," he said. 

Last year, Enns and his team brought to council a conceptual design and in February of this year they sought public input through a series of open houses. Council made a number of motions based on that information in the spring, including a motion from Councillor Brian Standish to delay the project for one year, which failed. 

"Fastforward to now, what council was presented with in August was an option to say, 'hey, can we work with local businesses to come up with an option for a communications and marketing plan for the construction period,'" said Enns. 

"This is actually the second time that this motion has been made this year and as you saw Monday, it failed."

The Town of Banff tweeted Wednesday (Aug. 14) that it will be meeting with businesses and residents of Bear Street. 

"We'll be meeting with businesses and residents of Bear Street to develop a communications plan before the 2020 construction on the street," the tweet reads.

"If you'd like to be part of the discussion, visit" 

The $6.4 million construction project of a permanent woonerf on Bear Street would change the street into a permanent pedestrian-friendly experience. The redevelopment of the well-travelled Banff street would also see the removal of on-street parking. Council officially approved the project on April 23.

– with files from Cathy Ellis

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