Council’s executive committee heard from downtown business owner Gord Vaadeland, who shared his experience and aired some grievances. He said business owners did not expect Central Ave. to take priority over emergency routes and other main arterials, but questioned the implication of the city’s snow clearing policy. He said Central Ave. is marked as a Priority 2 route, but wasn’t done right away. He said it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that planning crews had fallen victim to the sometimes poor portrayal of downtown on social media, leading to it falling behind.
“There may be a misunderstanding, or maybe an aspect or a bit of culture that doesn’t value the downtown to the level we hear downtown is valued,” he said. “I haven’t talked to many business owners that feel warm and fuzzy about the relationship between city hall and the downtown business community.”
Vaadeland said businesses struggled for two days with poor access to their doors, leaving clients stuck on the street. He said with the upcoming “big dig” of Central Ave. to replace aging infrastructure and the recent announcement of the University of Saskatchewan campus downtown, there is an opportunity to improve the relationship between the city and downtown.
“I think what happened last week exposed some deficiencies in the relationship between the entities, and there is an opportunity to take that and build on it,” he said.
Calling it a “reoccurring problem,” Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp moved to increase the priority of Central Ave. so it would be cleared directly after Priority 1 arterials and emergency routes. Lennox-Zepp also suggested allocating parking metre revenue in this fall's budget for the purchase of more snow clearing equipment and moving away from a reliance on private contractors. Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha concurred, saying more than 3,000 people are employed downtown and transit buses were stuck trying to complete their routes.
All these comments drew the ire of Mayor Greg Dionne, who called last week's snow event a “one-in-ten-year” snowfall and urged everyone not to overreact. He said when big storms occur, everyone wants their roads cleared right away, but the city simply does not have the money to do so.
“As soon as we got the storm, we called and we couldn’t get access to private contractors,” he said. “I understand where the downtown is coming from. We had our own staff stuck in the parking lot.”
Dionne also referred to the recent U of S announcement, calling it a “game changer,” and said he wanted everyone to come together around the project. He said the university’s first choice was not downtown, and the city had to negotiate for it.
“I just hope we can all come together and realize this was a freak storm and that we survived it,” he said. “Let’s move on and work together to make the downtown what it should be; the number-one place to go.”
The mayor went on to issue a challenge to the Downtown Business Improvement District. Dionne invited the organization to a meeting, and said he was prepared to clear Central Ave. the day it snowed, but asked which side of the street the snow should be piled on.
“We won’t pick up, and we will take out one of the parking lanes. That is the solution,” he said. “Choose the left or the right. That is the problem; we can’t pile snow on Central Ave.”
Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski said everyone in the city would like better service, but the city is short on cash. He also questioned why Central Ave. took priority over schools, many of which had yet to be cleared.
“I need somebody in here to explain to me why the downtown is more important than the safety of our students at our schools. I need help with that one,” he said. “I think we need to be reasonable.”
On Twitter: @JournoMarr
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