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'Our Downtown': Revitalization plans include more policing, cleaning and events

The initiative, which will cost at least $950,000, is being funded through extended paid parking hours and increased parking fees approved by council this year
Pedestrians on Government Street near Yates Street. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

More visible police and bylaw officers, street cleaning, ­public art, lighting and a slew of events are all part of Victoria’s new Downtown Revitalization ­program.

The initiative, which will cost at least $950,000, is being funded through extended paid-parking hours and increased parking fees, approved by council this year.

On Thursday, Victoria ­council got a preview of the program and its branding — “Our ­Downtown.”

Coun. Jeremy Caradonna said the program changes the script for a downtown that has been dogged by complaints that it’s unsafe and uncared for.

“This is our opportunity to change the narrative in downtown Victoria and show people that it is a safe, fun, vibrant place to be, to visit, to live, to work, to play,” he said. “I think this is an enormous opportunity, frankly, for us to showcase who we are and what we can be.”

Caradonna said council “took a bit of a risk” when it extended pay-parking hours and raised the price. “But we said, ‘You know what, we need to find a new revenue stream and we need to invest in our downtown.’ ”

Quinn Anglin, the city’s manager of economic development, said new lighting, both decorative and functional, will be added, with a focus on darker areas, trees and public gathering spots, as well as more lighting projections on buildings to provide a better sense of animation.

There will be increased patrols by both Vic PD and bylaw officers. Police have already started increased foot patrols that will run until the end of August, while the bylaw department is planning its own foot patrol program, called Feet on the Street, set to start June 1.

Anglin said the idea is to do proactive enforcement of bylaws relating to nuisance activities as well as providing a visible ­presence downtown.

That work will go along with enhanced street cleaning by the public works department, as well as a downtown ­scrub-up in late June alongside the Downtown Victoria Business ­Association.

Nichola Reddington, the city’s manager of arts, culture and events, said more than 200 events are planned to bring more life to downtown, ranging from “everyday experiences that people stumble upon throughout the day to those larger-scale, one-off events that draw people downtown.”

Reddington said the city is also starting to explore new recreational opportunities, including pickleball, basketball and interactive games in public spaces. She said there are plans for expanded music programs, enhanced busker programs, building more shoulder season and winter events, activating under-underutilized spaces with pop-up retail programs and other arts and cultural experiences.

This year, that includes increasing the winter hanging basket program and lighting trees from November to March along business and transportation corridors.

There are plans to refresh murals and to partner with the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations to explore the culture through public art, placemaking and events.

“The backbone that pulls us all together will be a compelling brand and marketing strategy that highlights the programs and service deliveries that falls under the downtown revitalization program,” Reddington said.

The “Our Downtown” brand is meant to instill a sense of community pride.

“It has been demonstrated in other cities that a sense of ownership of one’s downtown can contribute to a vibrant and thriving community,” she said.

Kerri Moore, head of business and community relations for the city, said no region can program its way past issues like crime, but when there is less programming and tourism season dies down, streets become quieter and the challenges of keeping the city clean and safe become more pronounced.

“We need to celebrate what we have in our beautiful city and look for all the opportunities to improve and enhance our existing programs and services,” she said, noting a lot of the investment will be made in the shoulder and winter season.

The city’s plans for the summer include hanging 1,600 flower baskets, installing the 3D orca whale horticultural display near the Empress Hotel, hanging 400 summer banners and hosting 200 free concerts, festivals, arts programs, public markets and family friendly events over the next 120 days.

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