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Blaze doesn't deter Downtown
While the heavy smoke from last Thursday's fire in Downtown New Westminster had people choking the big blaze did not choke off business in the area.
That's the message the area's Business Improvement Association (BIA) is trying to get out in the wake of the fire that destroyed three historic buildings along Columbia and Front Streets.
Although more than 15 businesses and offices have been affected there are still 300 businesses open and ready to serve customers, said BIA executive director Kendra Johnston.
"It's important to us to let people know that. That's our fear. Even though it's been a big loss, there are still places open down here," said Johnston.
She added smoke damage affected several businesses across Columbia Street and west of McKenzie, but they were all cleaned up over the weekend and reopened.
"It's amazing how everyone has been coming together and supporting each other," said Johnston. "It is going to be tough but there's a lot of positivity in the air. There are a lot of people coming together and helping each other."
The Network Hub in the River Market offered office space, and ACORN and Twisted Lime Media took them up on their generosity. Network Hub co-founder Jay Catalan said a third business, Pacific New West Tax, will be moving in temporarily. In addition, Five Stones Church, which was just up Columbia Street from the fire, used the Hub's meeting room for its Sunday services.
Catalan said the businesses are welcome to stay up to three months until they settle in elsewhere. "We had space and they needed space. It was just a horrible thing to happen, and if we can lend a hand, why not?"
The New Westminster police and fire departments are conducting a joint investigation of the fire which claimed three heritage buildings, two constructed in 1899. It started in the E.L Lewis building, which was built in 1904, but investigators were still trying to determine the cause this week, said city spokesperson Blair Fryer.
In his capacity as New Westminster's economic development manager, Fryer said the city is working with the BIA to help the affected businesses by expediting any permits they need to relocate.
"We want to assist them in their setup and then deal with the paperwork afterward," said Fryer.
The long-range plans for the historic block are in the gestation period and what form, heritage or otherwise, it takes has yet to be determined.
"It's too early at this time, but clearly with what's happened there and with the additional work that needs to be there, there's a vacant spot in our Downtown commercial district, and a lot of thought will go into making that corner shine," Fryer said. "It is going to be an interesting challenge, but the community has demonstrated by its actions the last few days it's up for this challenge."
New West's Downtown has been experiencing a revitalization in recent years, and Fryer doesn't see the fire affecting that negatively, especially if the reconstruction is done relatively quickly.
"If anything it's really heightened and drawn attention to all the work that's been happening on Columbia Street and all the revitalization that has been occurring," said Fryer of the fire.
The BIA wants to be part of that discussion, said Johnston, but she wasn't certain how much a role the heritage aspect of the site—which housed the iconic Copp's Shoes store for more than 85 years—would play.
"It's hard for us to grasp that yet. We'll certainly be discussing that for us as a board and looking at it as we go forward," she said.
Johnston said another building on the block suffered some water and smoke damage but the businesses there were set to open within a week.
Karmavore vegan restaurant and deli is also on that block and was closed while they went through the insurance, and health and building inspection process. Karmavore's Facebook site said the store lost power for more than 24 hours which affected their refrigeration, forcing them to throw out most of their product and ingredients.
Fryer said the Anvil Centre, the city civic facility currently under construction at Columbia and Eighth, was not affected by any smoke damage but many businesses on the north side of Columbia Street were. "It certainly did cause discomfort for those in the vicinity."
Union Gospel Mission is along that stretch and with its gas shut down its Thanksgiving turkey dinner had to be cooked at its downtown Vancouver location and then delivered to New West to serve 300 guests.