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Canmore considering pedestrian-only Main Street for reopening

"We want businesses to thrive, we want to encourage residents to shop local and we want to preserve the strong sense of community we have in Canmore, which includes being a welcoming and inclusive community – and we want to acknowledge the role of tourism in our town." 
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A few people walk along Main St. in Canmore on Saturday (March 21). Despite fears of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, Canmore residents still enjoyed outdoor activities while keeping a safe distance from others. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO⁠

CANMORE – Officials at the Town of Canmore are considering what reopening the community and non-essential services will look like and are contemplating a pedestrian only Main Street to help keep residents and visitors socially distant once public health restrictions are lifted. 

How to manage pedestrian traffic on Main Street, however, is only one factor under consideration, according to general manager of municipal services Sally Caudill, who provided council an update on those plans Tuesday (May 5). 

Caudill said the group formed to consider what reopening the economy in Canmore should look like is considering all options carefully and is aware that a pedestrian-only Main Street could have unintended consequences. 

"We are having a variety of conversations around Main Street," she said. "One of the concerns is if you do that, it could encourage more pedestrians to come to Main Street.

"We will need to come up with a solution that makes sure there is enough room on Main Street for businesses and pedestrians, but if we pedestrianize the whole street and it just invites more visitation, then we have created a different problem." 

Canmore's emergency coordination centre has been recently turning its attention from responding to the pandemic, to reopening. With Premier Jason Kenney announcing Alberta's relaunch strategy last Thursday (April 30), Caudill said work is underway to consider what that means Town staff and operations. 

That includes how municipal staff will return to work. With the majority of staff laid off due to shutting down recreation facilities, Caudill said they will not be able to return to work until stage three of the provincial relaunch strategy.

There are also plans for when staff can transition from working at home and municipal facilities like the civic centre, public works building and fire hall can reopen to the public. Both are anticipated as part of stage two. 

When it comes to reopening for the business community, and considerations for how to manage pedestrian and business needs on Main Street, Caudill said the municipality is working with a newly formed business alliance.

"Especially as businesses reopen and we expect to see more and more people visiting in town and just walking on Main Street," she said. "In almost all these phases of reopening, we have a variety of community partners who we are working with and will continue to work with." 

The Canmore Business Association is comprised of a representative from the downtown Business Improvement Area, Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association, Tourism Canmore Kananaskis, Canmore Hotel and Lodging Association, Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Canmore's economic development manager Eleanor Miclette. 

A survey of local businesses in April by the Town's economic development department provided a glimpse into what the shutdown has meant for unemployment in the community. 

Miclette said while pinpointing an exact unemployment rate for Canmore is not yet available, it is estimated to be between 50 to 65 per cent. 

"What is clear is that as a community, we need to stand with our businesses," Miclette said. "These are our neighbours, our friends, our family members. 

"These businesses are the heart and backbone of our community and they contribute to our vibrancy and community spirit. How we stand behind them now, will determine what our community looks and feels like once the pandemic is over and our doors are open again." 

Stage one of Alberta's relaunch strategy could begin as early as May 14 if the conditions set out by the province for it to proceed are met. Those conditions include the widespread use of masks, the ability to do extensive contact tracing and reduced numbers of infections.

In stage one, some retail businesses may open including clothing, furniture and book stores. Some personal services may open, like hairstyling. Museums and art galleries may open and cafés, restaurants and pubs may open their doors, but only operate at 50 per cent capacity. 

While there have been calls on the municipality to follow in Banff's steps and restrict the movement of people into the community, Mayor John Borrowman reiterated during a virtual town hall last week that in his perspective restricting travel goes beyond what Canmore legally can do.

He pointed out the direction from the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is that non-essential travel is not recommended. To go beyond that would restrict the public's fundamental rights, which must be balanced with public safety measures.

"We are listening to the concerns of our residents, but we cannot make decisions based on emotion or fear," Borrowman said. "We need to continue to follow the advice we receive ... Dr. Hinsahw has discouraged non-essential travel, however travelling between communities has not been prohibited." 

Caudill said as the municipality looks at reopening, there are many concerns to navigate, including the anxiety and fear around the spread of the virus through visitation. 

"There is increased fear and anxiety in residents and we are hearing that," she said. "Businesses also have many concerns. Some of them have been hit quite hard by the pandemic and they are keen to reopen because it is their livelihood and they also want to bring back employment.

"They are very concerned for their own safety, for the safety of their staff, for their customers and for all Canmore residents and there is also the reality they rely on visitors, many of them but not all, to stay afloat." 

Caudill said visitors are concerned about their safety as well, and while many have stayed away, they will be keen to get back into the mountains. 

She said everyone involved agrees that to just open the "flood gates" will not work, a quick return to normal visitation will be too much. What would be ideal is a phased approach. 

The challenge is in how to manage that return of visitation, she said, and recognizing there are complex reasons for why people come to Canmore. 

"We do know that we do want to keep the community safe," Caudill said.

"We want businesses to thrive, we want to encourage residents to shop local and we want to preserve the strong sense of community we have in Canmore, which includes being a welcoming and inclusive community – and we want to acknowledge the role of tourism in our town." 

Follow's COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.

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