Regional Rundown: No, downtown Invermere isn’t dying!

Is downtown Invermere dying? Why doesn’t the DOI control/stop/limit the development at the crossroads?

Is downtown Invermere dying? Why doesn’t the District of Invermere (DOI) control/stop/limit the development at the crossroads?

These questions are sometimes asked by locals and residents. A few facts worth considering: all of the land to the north of the Athalmer highway (ie. No Frills, Kicking Horse, Home Hardware) is in the Shuswap reserve and the DOI has no input or control on this development. The land to the south of the Athalmer highway is zoned/controlled by the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) — the DOI gets one out of 15 seats on this board. However, it is worth noting that much of the land has been zoned commercial for decades and a great deal of additional commercial development can occur in this area without any further votes or decisions by the RDEK.

In 2005, two important things happened in downtown Invermere: Home Hardware moved out of the downtown core, and the first phase of the Parkside Place development near Pothole Park finished construction. Both of these changes created a huge amount of available commercial square footage downtown. In the short term, all of the spaces previously occupied by Home Hardware were filled, but as we know today, not all of those businesses remained. There was also some time when there was quite a bit of vacancy within the Parkside Place commercial units — they are now all full.

Some of the other noted vacancies downtown are the former Essentials /Consign-It space, the former The Book Bar space and, although still lived in by the owners but no longer operating, the Toby Theatre

The reasons that these spaces are empty or not fully utilized are complex and unique, everything from family situations, condition of the building, technological changes and changing retail patterns (online shopping and a move towards smaller specialty boutique stores, or big box national chains versus large independent “department” stores). The former Book Bar building has new owners and there should be renovations happening quite soon. Before long, we will see it full and bustling with a re-imagined combination of existing downtown businesses.

Despite several high profile vacancies downtown and a few buildings that look a little tired, the story in Invermere is far from doom and gloom. There have been a number of new businesses open or expand in 2015 and, during a recent Chamber of Commerce-sponsored initiative “Business Walk” in which local businesses were canvassed door-to-door and asked about their business, it was confirmed that quite a few businesses downtown had one of their best summers ever in 2015.

Another extremely positive outcome in the summer of 2015 was the success of the Farmers & Artisan Market downtown. Despite competition from the Crossroads market at the same time, the downtown market was definitely busier and more successful. The comments from many of the downtown market patrons was quite telling: they enjoyed the atmosphere downtown and nearby shops and restaurants — they want to come downtown. The feedback about the new and improved Cenotaph Park downtown was also very positive.

We are very excited that construction of the new multi-use centre at the old DTSS site across from Sobeys will begin in 2016. This new facility will not only be an exciting and very visible presence at the entrance to the downtown, but it will also show significant investment and belief in what there is to offer and experience on the west side of Lake Windermere. When completed, the space will not only house and facilitate the current uses of the existing Lake Windermere Community Hall, but also offer a venue for larger scale conferences/meetings/performing arts, and a new and expanded home for the Invermere Public Library.

In 2005, with the move of Home Hardware out of the downtown, people speculated about the death of downtown. The next few years that followed ended up being extremely busy with no commercial vacancies. There are always lots of larger factors at play, like oil prices and the global economy, major changes in the way retail occurs, and constant technological changes (people just don’t rent videos or develop rolls of film anymore), but despite all of this, downtown Invermere is not dead! A private liquor store at Canadian Tire isn’t going to change the beauty and popularity of the flowers downtown or the success of the downtown market, and it isn’t going to stop the construction of the new multi-use centre. The next time someone complains about “all the businesses that have closed” or about “all the empty spaces downtown,” remind them that sky hasn’t fallen yet, and, believe it or not, downtown Invermere and the unique collection of businesses will continue to survive — and thrive!

Gerry Taft is mayor of the District of Invermere and a Regional District of East Kootenay director for the Columbia Valley. He can be reached at taft.gerry@gmail.com.

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