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Centennial Square goes back to the drawing board

Sparwood councillors stripped millions worth of features from the plan and sent it back for a review

Sparwood councillors have pared back grand plans for the Centennial Square revitalization based on concerns about parking and cost.

At a Committee of the Whole meeting on Tuesday, councillors directed staff to strip millions worth of proposed features and projects from the plan and bring it back again.

Mayor David Wilks said it was “back to the drawing board”.

“We’ll come up with something that works for everybody,” he said. “I will personally go to every business, and I will personally review it with every business owner prior to ensure it’s what they envision.”

The grand, complete plan as presented by a consulting company that was working off community feedback envisioned a project clocking in at around $6 million spread across six different areas in the downtown area around Centennial Square.

Under that plan, not only would the Centennial Plaza have been completely re-done to be a pedestrian-friendly promenade, the district would have also purchased land from the neighbouring Catholic Church for more green space, Centennial Street would have been revitalized, the parking plaza to the east of the square would have been re-done, landscaping works would be carried out around the municipal hall and a pedestrian promenade would link the Centennial Square area to Aspen Drive.

But after Tuesday, most of that is off the table, with only the re-vitalization of Centennial Plaza and the purchase of church lands still on the table - for now.

Wilks said he wanted a new, revised plan to come back to council in April as he believed the project could still go ahead in 2021.

“I think there’s a way forward this year that will accommodate everybody.”

Council discussion had focused in on cost, parking and debate around whether Centennial Square was meant to be for locals or tourists.

Councillor Ron Saad said he was firmly of the belief the project should be local-focused, saying visitors to Sparwood had the Titan Truck to look at.

“Centennial Square needs to be more usable for the taxpayers of Sparwood, not the tourists,” he said.

Councillor Jason Christensen agreed it was important to focus on locals, but said there was an opportunity to give tourists more to stop for in town given Sparwood’s location between Calgary and destinations beyond the Elk Valley.

Councillor Brad Bowen focused in on parking and accessibility for seniors, saying he didn’t approve of plans that would reduce parking. Business feedback also focused on store-front parking.

During discussions Mayor Wilks said that Centennial Square was for the locals as it was designed, and as per the proposed design, saying that any tourists that came by was a bonus.

He added that while the plan was seemingly grand, it was not without precedent, pointing to the two pedestrian bridges linking the two main parts of Sparwood across the Elk River.

“There was a vision they would be used,” he said, recounting that they were denounced as ‘bridges to nowhere’ when proposed.

“We provided in excess of $3 million in improvements with no guarantee that they were going to be used, but we recognized that it was for the betterment of the community as a whole.”

The bridges have since become well-used and critical pieces of infrastructure in the town.

Nonetheless, Wilks along with the rest of council directed staff to remove millions from the squares project scope, and to bring back a new plan that considered the retention of storefront parking, though what that would look like was also a subject of debate amongst councillors. Under the proposed plan, only 24 spots would have been lost, but this was deemed unacceptable as they would have been store-front spots.

READ MORE: Sparwood to review, vote on Centennial Square concept tomorrow
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