At a special council meeting Friday afternoon, Banff town council voted to extend the Banff Avenue pedestrianization project to Sept. 14, three days later than the original end date.
Mayor and council discussed further date extensions, later into September or into early October, but due to the need to get started on capital projects, such as line painting, before the weather changes, the Sept. 14 date was accepted. The deconstruction of the area will take place after Sept. 14 and it will not be open to vehicle traffic until at least Sept. 18.
Council also voted to extend the mandatory mask bylaw to the Banff Avenue-adjacent sidewalks of Bear Street. In May, council agreed to discuss the mask bylaw at each subsequent meeting to determine its efficacy and make changes where needed.
Mayor Karen Sorensen said she is pleased with and supportive of how the pedestrianization project has gone to date, but recognized there have been “winners and losers.”
Craig Paton, managing partner of Alloway Hospitality Management which oversees operations at St. James Gate on Wolf Street and the Elk & Oarsmen on Banff Ave., said he feels like he’s been one of the losers.
“I feel that it has not been done fairly and advantages given to certain businesses at the expense of others is enormous,” he said during a presentation at the meeting. “What was presented to us as business owners in April and what it is now is completely different… Bear Street and Wolf Street, we’re struggling.”
Paton said Wolf Street has become a staging area for construction equipment, including in his presentation a photo taken Friday morning showing chain link fencing, a gravel pit and an excavator in front of St. James Gate.
“I’m here to ask that we level the playing field again… keep the pedestrians on Banff Avenue but please take the retail and restaurants out and give us a chance for just a little bit of fall when people are out and about and walking the streets.”
At the Banff Avenue Brewing Co., a small tent with four additional tables made space for 24 extra seats but weather played a big role in the viability of their outdoor patio.
Manager Meesh Souliere said overall they were happy with how the project has gone, but it’s not been as beneficial as for others with bigger tents.
“At the end of the day it helped people overall, so, yes, some people got more, but they have bigger spaces and that’s the way the cookie crumbled,” she said.
Katie Tuff, co-founder of Banff Hospitality Collective, said she understands and shares some concerns of restaurant owners, but added the experience for the town and for visitors has been incredible.
One of the 11 Banff Hospitality Collective restaurants, Park Distillery, has one of the biggest tents along the avenue, with 80 additional seats.
“We just happened to have a big footprint on Banff Avenue because we rent a big building on Banff Avenue,” Tuff said, adding another one of their properties, Chuck’s Steakhouse, did not receive a patio allocation.
“We also run restaurants on Bear Street and we’re opening one on Wolf Street, so we had a lot of experience this summer with the opposite of the beautiful pedestrianization,” she said. “We’re in a construction zone right now on Bear Street, but by and large I would not take away that Banff Ave. experience… You would hope for a repetition of this again in the future.”
According to Parks Canada, 581,202 people visited Banff during the month of July, a 16 per cent decrease from the same month in 2019.
“If I were to go back to where we were as we were slowly reopening things, (the numbers) are surprising,” Daniella Rubeling with Parks Canada said. “Having been on the ground and seeing the visitation that we’re seeing, that number isn’t surprising to me now, but if you’d asked me four months ago, it might have been a harder number to imagine.”
Tuff added, overall, the experience for visitors has been unlike any other summer in Banff and commends the Town for acting quickly to make it happen.
“In these times when suddenly health and safety was brought into the matrix, we’ve proved that we can do something that we didn’t think we could do,” she said. “The pedestrian won this summer.”
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