There needs to be less finger-pointing and polarization in the ongoing debate over downtown, a city councillor says.
“There is an opportunity to create retail strips (downtown), and also spaces for social services without ghetto-izing them,” councillor Murry Krause said Tuesday. “But that’s not going to happen by blaming and polarization.”
Krause was responding to comments by Monkey Forest owner Bruce High, who said city council is sending a message that shoppers should head outside of the downtown core, and that he is moving out when his lease expires in June.
“I think what’s happened is the city has sent a loud and clear signal, because in the last year, two social services were put on George Street,” he said. “They have said shopping is on Highway 16. They’ve done all they can to signal there is no shopping downtown.”
High said he is upset that the Firepit drop-in centre is located next door to his store.
“We’ll have customers just shake their heads and walk away because of the people on the sidewalk,” he said. “I won’t be moving any closer to downtown than the bypass.”
He said 5 Season Sports had to move for the same reason he is.
“(Council) is not on the same wavelength (as business),” he said. “They don’t realize the damage to local businesses. They’ve taken two long-term stores out of the downtown.”
But Krause counters that the centre is open only three afternoons a week, and there has not been a dramatic increase in social service agencies downtown.
“I think we can create a space downtown for everybody,” he said, adding he would not like to see Monkey Forest re-locate. “We have a number of processes underway looking at ways we can work together in a responsible and progressive way to find effective responses.
He said current zoning regulations downtown do not restrict property uses, and the city is looking at zoning options to create strips of retail space.
“The social service agencies are very much interested in that,” he said. “And they are at the table.”
It wouldn’t make any sense to move people out of the downtown, as has happened with the sex trade in Prince George, and with homeless people in other B.C. communities.
“Those kind of responses are not only inappropriate, but they serve no purpose,” he said. “The service agencies are where people need them. It would be foolish to locate them in residential areas.”
High maintains council is making George Street the preferred location for social services, and outlying areas the preferred location for retail stores.