Opinion

COLUMN: The good, bad and the ugly in New Westminster in 2012

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For better and for worse, it’s been a busy year in the Royal City. Here’s my take on the good, the bad, the ugly of 2012.

Good: Vancouver condo king Bob Rennie comes to town and says the “Royal City” moniker reminds him of the name on a can of peaches. It’s tired, he says—time to spice things up and get a new brand. Mayor Wright affably says thanks Bob, I’m not touching that with a 10-foot pole. And Vancouver Sun columnist (and Moody Park resident) Shelley Fralic hits the nail on the head with a column (“Keep your mitts off the Royal City, Bob”) in which she writes “we’re all for progress, but it’s somewhat annoying… for you to waltz into town and declare that our much-cherished history is in need of Renniefication.”

The “Royal City” is about a name, to be sure, but it’s also about where we draw the line as this city rapidly develops and changes with the times.

Where will we be in 10 years? Will this little gem of a city lose its soul? Most folks are happy to see new development begin to re-energize Downtown, for instance, and lord knows it was time for Hyack Festival Society to update its annual slate of events. But when does updating, invigorating and growth lead to throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

In some things—like whether to keep the Royal City name—we get a choice. In others, well, we’ll just have to ride it out, and hope for the best.

Good: More amenities, shops and services. Banks, drug stores and grocery stores are returning to the Royal City. Once the old Blockbuster Video store at Sixth Street and Seventh Avenue is redeveloped into a two-storey, 10,000-square-foot Rexall drugs, Uptown will have three large drug stores (I’m assuming the new Rexall will replace the little IDA three doors down, owned by the same company). Rona brought a hardware store back to the New West mainland this year. TD Canada Trust now has three branches in New West. And in Uptown, an upscale restaurant is being eyed for the new Queen’s Park West building under construction at Fifth Street and Sixth Avenue. In all, there are a lot more businesses in New West than five or six years ago. According to the city’s licensing manager Keith Coueffin, business licences more than doubled between 2006 and 2011, from 1,762 to 3,805. Licensing of trades and stepped up enforcement has played a part, but Coueffin says much of that growth comes from a lot of vacant space getting filled, and new commercial space at places like Queensborough Landing shopping centre, Plaza 88 and the Brewery District.

Bad: There is always a fair bit of turnover in New West, particularly among the marginal mom and pop retail, but a lot of businesses have either shut down in recent months or are about to. Some are retirements, at Quay Celebrity Lingerie in Uptown and Copp’s Shoes in Downtown, but many simply failed in a tough economy. Recent closures include Heather’s Boutique, Cone Zone, Modern Home Furnishings, Milli’s Pita Pizza, Kids Closet, Ranch BBQ, Farm Cottage Bakery, Shine Wellness, TINY and Emilio’s deli (at River Market) and Pearl Kitchen. I’m sure you could add a few more.

Good and Bad: Traffic. We should all be tense about the situation right now. Will the Pattullo Bridge replacement be four lanes, six, three with a counterflow, or will it be something different entirely? This was the year New West residents stood up and—after years of being frustrated with the 450,000 or so vehicles that blast through our 15-square-km city each day—said with almost one voice, maybe a bigger bridge isn’t such a good idea.

And now we’ve got the South Fraser Perimeter Road, a tolled Port Mann... It’s hard to believe, but things may actually get worse. As a city, and as residents, must be clear and firm on this issue. Now is our chance. This city at the crossroads of Metro Vancouver is at a major crossroads on the issue of traffic. Let’s not screw it up.

Bad: School board (Think: $2.8 million deficit).

Good: Westminster Pier Park. It rocks.

Bad: Westminster Pier Park. It’s hard to get to.

Ugly: The controversy around the city’s decision to build the office tower and borrow $59 million. If it’s sold soon, for say $60-$65 million, well, that’d be beautiful.

Just plain maddening: Waiting to get the new schools built. There’s a plan, a schedule, and the first (St. Mary’s Elementary) should break ground this year. But as we’ve all seen, things can go awry. And when they start digging into the soil at the high school site, we’ll all be holding our breath, hoping there won’t be any new surprises in the soil.

Happy New Year, everyone. And thank you for reading.

• Chris Bryan is editor of the NewsLeader.

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