By Lethbridge Herald on October 12, 2021.
“Downtown Lethbridge is hurting! The opioid crisis has led to addiction, property crimes and homelessness. To make matters worse, the pandemic has resulted in businesses having to limit their hours of operation. The issue is complex with several pieces to the puzzle. We have already proved that harm reduction on its own, was a failure. I’ve said this before but it needs to be followed by detox, treatment and recovery programs. A greater police presence (including foot patrol) along with serious charges being laid for criminal activity is also required. Hopefully this will help getting perpetrators to the detox stage. Catch and release isn’t working.”
“I support the Downtown Beat Unit, the Watch and the Crime Suppression Team of LPS to help provide relief to downtown crime and disorder. I also recommend crime prevention through environmental design examination of many of our open spaces. These initiatives along with a focused and collaborative approach to centralizing services for the homeless and drug addicted have been successful in other cities which we can leverage to our advantage here. There are other concerns beyond crime and disorder downtown, young people I have spoken to have no interest in going downtown (nothing to do and dangerous). I would like to see an entertainment area along 6th Street S. where in the summertime the road is blocked to traffic, patios with wine bars, restaurants and coffee shops proliferate and buskers and street musicians entertain people. The second is achievable if we pay attention to the first part of my response.”
“The downtown is an amazing destination for retail, restaurants, and culture. Anyone suggesting that it isn’t hasn’t spent time there. I was part of the original Heart of the City visioning sessions for their Master Plan in 2007. In the subsequent years I watched it blossom from a site of boarded storefronts and pawn shops, to a thriving environment of new development and enterprise. Covid and the opioid crisis have presented serious challenges, and several businesses didn’t survive. But this summer, the new sidewalk patios were always full and many new businesses opened. There are some endemic social crises that need attention, but the downtown is a great place, and arguing differently is doing a disservice to the hardworking entrepreneurs & businesses that call the core home. Driving consumer and cultural activity into downtown is an integral component of my platform; support for business and public services, and encouraging festivals and community activity in Galt Gardens. In order for this to be successful we need to develop a concerted and focused strategy to transition the individuals involved in damaging activities (public drug use, vandalism, etc.) into housing and treatment. There are public behaviours that are absolutely unacceptable in a public commons, but let’s work towards solutions without losing sight of how amazing the Heart of the City actually is.”
“This area of the City has been sideswiped by a number of social and economic factors affecting municipalities of all sizes. This includes urban growth, decentralization, and the digital economy. Some of the changes I would support include free limited time parking, closing off some streets to create an outdoor mall, encouraging mixed use live/work condos, increasing policing, and providing a day-use facility for homeless individuals away from the downtown area. Also, by re-imaging Galt Gardens with a Muttart Conservatory-type of facility, where people can enjoy a tropical climate year-round, thereby bring more people to the downtown.”
“Literally every election this comes up. Every, single, one. What happens? The 3rd Avenue redevelopment has probably been the most visually significant, since they interspersed cobblestones with some of the concrete and asphalt. But is that the solution? Build something and they will come? The other day I attended an opening reception at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, right across from the Owl Acoustic Lounge’s new location with its wonderful patio. Excellent beats coming from the multiple stages at the Lethbridge Electronic Music Festival. Aside from the construction going on further down the street along 3rd Ave, on the surface, even with COVID, looking like a lively, vibrant downtown. Just one hitch. The beer gardens, etc., temporarily supplanted the typical population who were then hanging around the front stairs and stairwells of SAAG. Aside from those waiting for a pop-up tent, where do those with nowhere to go, go? The answer to this question is going to take coordination with local social services and housing authorities, our First Nations brothers and sisters, Provincial and Federal stakeholders, and indeed the entire community. Most of all, it’s going to take leadership from a united Council with full community support. I hope to be a part of that Council, and will help provide some of that fortitude required to build a better, brighter future, for everyone.”
“Many things are being done in the downtown. The Watch program is part of keeping the downtown safe and the Sage Clan plays an important role in terms of support. The new 3 Avenue project is significant in creating a more walkable space downtown and the new Festival Square being built is going to be a big hit for creating activity. The parklets that were generated by the Heart of the City Committee have been a welcome site for restaurants in the downtown. Of course once Covid goes away there will be significant positive activity in Galt Gardens. Other building incentives for the downtown are helping to enhance the core.”
“Having spoken to business owners and managers, the same resounding themes prevail: 1- High taxation. 2- Obstructive business license requirements. 3- The parking meters and Commissionaires on the street for parking enforcement was just fine. Little to no discussion was held with the businesses before the introduction of the new parking system. 4- Vagrancy and panhandling that is going on is very disruptive and affects business as customers feel harassed and intimidated. 5- Loitering makes customers feel intimidated and unsafe.
6- Some are defecating in alleys and even in door accesses in the front of businesses, a huge health concern. 7- Lighting in some areas should be increased.
As I was a uniformed security officer working the downtown core, I am well aware of health and safety concerns on the streets which I dealt with daily. Councillors should immediately and each personally spend time with the business operators and furthermore, ‘Stop – Look – Listen’ to what is going on downtown. This is not limited to day time, but nights as well. Once having adequately experienced the situation(s), come together and devise a realistic plan of action. City Bylaws that address vagrancy, panhandling and loitering must be enforced. Likewise, Bylaws dealing with ‘setting up tents’ in public areas (i.e. the pop-up illegal drug usage tents ‘orange tents’) should be strictly enforced. Illegal drug trade is a huge issue and this criminal activity must be stopped at all costs.”
“As there is an entire plan – the Heart of Our City Master Plan – designed to address downtown concerns, it would be impossible to outline the possibilities in just 250 words. The plan looks at everything including how to support business, how to build community safety, how to balance retail and residential, how to develop more entertainment options, how to encourage more events, how to make the downtown more pedestrian friendly and much more. Recognizing that a plan for the downtown already exists, I focus instead on just a few strategies. As the geographical area of the Heart of Our City has been expanded, we should encourage businesses and organizations in the Warehouse District and along 13 Street North to form formal organizations which can become part of the discussions and decision making. We also need to encourage youth involvement. When asked young people reported that Lethbridge lacks welcoming public spaces, spaces where they can ‘just go and chill’ and would like to see these developed in the downtown. As downtowns tend to attract the young (and young at heart, creative types), their input is essential. It is also necessary to support entrepreneurs and new businesses, to encourage local ownership, business development and business retention. To support this, the city needs to figure out how to leverage money and develop partnerships to advance the needs of the downtown in order to pull together sources of funding, skills knowledge, volunteers and more to benefit the entire community.”
“I have spent a great deal of time visiting downtown business owners. One comment struck me from a well-established owner. I introduced myself as a candidate for Council and asked if she would share some thoughts about the downtown. She expressed that I was the FIRST person from the city that had EVER come to ask her opinion. This is a sad comment on what the current council has NOT been doing. It is hard to replace these types of illuminating and eye-opening conversations. So, clearly the first thing that needs to happen is councillors need to make the time to meet with downtown business owners face to face. I’m not suggesting that every councillor can meet with every business but we should be out and about getting a feel for which initiatives are working and which are not. Downtown business owners are justifiably upset about persistent aggressive panhandling, break-ins and assaults. I have been clear on the need to get tough on crime. In some respects, the city just needs to get out of the way. I asked that same boutique owner if she ever thinks of setting up a special sale at Galt Gardens. She said the city charges too much for the permit. That is ridiculous. If a business owner or owners want to try to bring people to Galt Gardens for example, then we should not penalize them. We should dispatch some volunteers from The Watch and encourage people to shop til they drop!”
“Addressing concerns of Downtown Lethbridge will take serious community collaboration and my initial thoughts are that we need to beef up downtown policing by introducing foot and bicycle patrols with the possibility of adding a downtown community policing office. We also need to create incentives for businesses to locate downtown.”
“There is no doubt that the downtown is becoming more attractive with the changes to its streetscape. With the allowance of outdoor patios, it has become a more attractive place to shop, people watch and enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee. But, there are a number of issues that act as headwinds to a full revival and utilization of our historic downtown. One is the fact that shopping habits have changed. Big box stores surround our city and offer products at a cost that many businesses cannot compete with; furthermore, online shopping has become more prevalent which also erodes in person shopping. The City doesn’t have any real means to effect changes to buying behaviours and, thus, it is left primarily up to the small businesses to provide a product that attracts folks to their premises rather than to malls or to online platforms. Nevertheless, the City can assist in that effort by making the downtown experience more attractive which they are trying to do through the changes referred to which should continue. Another issue involves the large number of street and homeless people who often are intoxicated, high on drugs, or a combination of both and who frequently accost or impede patrons of downtown. Unfortunately, absent a magic wand to alleviate these poor folks’ issues, one way to mitigate the problem is by having a more visible enforcement presence which includes Police and other security personnel. The visual presence of law enforcement would go a long ways to making people feel more comfortable in visiting the downtown and if they knew that the liklihood of being ‘hassled’ (or worse) was diminished. Frankly, I want our downtown to be the one that I grew up with!”
“As a local business owner, I appreciate that our Downtown and other commercial districts have been mired in social issues for a long time. Rebuilding and rejuvenating the commercial areas of our city, particularly in its core, must be a priority moving forward and this will require innovative, progressive, and bold strategies from Council and Administration at City Hall. I have been working on starting a Business Improvement Area (BRZ, just different initials) in the Warehouse District/Upper Eastside for over three years and we are finally gaining ground on this project to support businesses in that area. Lethbridge needs to recognize that many of the problems associated with the Downtown originate in, or invariably affect, areas adjacent to the downtown core and that these areas also need to be addressed. The City’s focus on the downtown, to the exclusion of other depressed districts, has, in my opinion, exasperated the issues around the city. We need to stop parcelling which areas of the city get attention, and turn to a more comprehensive scale of dealing with our social issues. Not to belabour an old adage, but: rising tides float all boats. If the city is able to invest reasonably and responsibly in the economic recovery of those districts that immediately feed the Downtown and this can be done simply through innovation and economic development at little cost to the Taxpayer. Grassroots community building will go a long way to addressing concerns in all areas of our city, particularly our core.”
“When I was owner and editor of Lethbridge Living magazine, we included stories about downtown in every issue. We mapped out restaurants to attract people to the core. We worked with downtown businesses to promote this hub. We promoted events. Today, I work there, own a small franchise there, and walk around our downtown every day. Here’s the challenge that I see and hear from downtown organizations, agencies, and businesses. The BRZ and City have been working for 30-plus years to ‘revitalize’ the downtown, and we are still facing the same issues 30 years later. What we need is to step back and take a new, fresh strategic approach to creating the downtown we want. Council needs to support Downtown BRZ and businesses in trying new things, like we did with the parklets, the Farmers Market, the Allied Arts Council’s concert series this summer. Even the pilot scooter program is something different, something that will bring people to the core. We should explore what other communities are doing and how can we make those ideas work for our city. This includes a commitment to supporting strategies to help people who are experiencing homelessness, addictions, and issues around safety. The City, the Chamber, the Downtown BRZ, and Economic Development Lethbridge all have a role to play in living, working, playing, and shopping local campaigns. I’m committed to supporting and creating a vibrant downtown that becomes a centre for business, employment, housing opportunities, entertainment, arts, culture, and general celebrations in our community.”
“The downtown occupies a special place in our community, both symbolically and in practical terms. There are a lot of really great aspects to Downtown Lethbridge, including shopping, cultural and entertainment events, professional and other services, dining – most of whatever you need, you can find downtown. Some residents don’t realize that, for one reason or another. One of our main tasks, then, to help Downtown Lethbridge is to make sure we are telling that story to Lethbridge as a whole. There’s no doubt that our downtown – like that of most other larger cities – has some issues. Homelessness and poverty are visible, and are often related to drug use. As a downtown business owner, I tend not to focus on these, for several reasons: for one, our downtown is so much more than those issues! For another, this is a community responsibility, and won’t be solved overnight. Those who offer quick solutions to this are selling snake-oil, including the suggestion that policing will solve all of these issues. We must address these issues by ensuring necessary services are available, funded and are effective.
Past those difficult – but necessary – steps, we need to continue to work on making our downtown a great place to live, to shop, to conduct business, and to visit. That requires ongoing investments and upgrades, and a continued focus on promoting vibrancy through events and attractions. The more we tell Lethbridge about the great features of downtown, the greater our downtown will be!”
“It doesn’t really matter what we do with the downtown area until the crime, drug addiction, and homelessness problem is dealt with. If people don’t feel safe, they won’t go there to shop. We need to develop an integrated plan that gets the homeless into housing, where they are given the opportunity to change and get into addictions treatment. When this happens, hopefully, many of the crimes associated with drug addiction will start to decrease. With the problems associated with Covid, we may have to come up with some form of financial aid, maybe some kind of tax relief or lowering some fees. Many restaurants, hair dressers, gyms, and bars, to name a few, were hit hard with the various closures. We may have to look at making it city wide.”
Shelby J. MacLeod
“Perhaps, Lethbridge could enact a No Drug Dealer allowed, if only it were that simple. It’s important all groups and agencies work together on wrap around supports and placements for people who need housing. Ongoing mental wellness supports and daily work or art tasks help that person feel better, as art / work is part of who we are. We all need the dignity of housing, bathroom access – a room with a door. We all want to feel safe in our places and spaces. Talking with service groups, people in the park and downtown business staff – the complexity to solutions grows. More collaboration like Castle Apartments are needed, a joint housing venture between CMHA and Lethbridge Housing Authority. When the old hotel venture was acquired, after hour visitation rule changed; CMHA offered residents wrap around supports, which greatly reduced police emergency calls – from daily visits to a few in two years. This venue has saved the taxpayer expensive police visits, as people felt safe. Many of the same people still live at Castle, enjoying a better quality of life – free of drug conflict. I would support replicating similar housing ventures. I have heard many solutions during this campaign, passionate dialogue helps clears the air. People need an opportunity to voice frustrations, share points of view, and possible solutions. Inroads are being made and collaborative action is paramount. Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day – let us all deliver wellness supports every day.”
“Of course this question may be seen as vague. Everyone has their own opinion of what their concern is, which causes subjectivity. From what I am hearing, the number one concern in downtown is crime and safety. First, we need to insure the Lethbridge Police Service has the appropriate funds to deliver on the issues of safety and security. At the same time, we must recognize the reality of the various root causes of these concerns, which can be attributed to addiction, trauma, and mental health and more. You cannot arrest or ticket your way out of this dilemma. We need to advocate for appropriate resources/services and create a holistic approach to support people at risk. We need to support the much needed help and resources which is long overdue. I’m optimistic that other levels of government are now allocating funds for facilities such as intox/detox in our city as well as mental health support. If we do not have the correct services in place soon, the continual cycle of crime and negative behaviour will never be solved. We have to work together and collaborate to address the concerns of Downtown Lethbridge.”
“I recently attended the Celebrate Downtown Awards. Congratulations to the nominees and award winners. You are resilient, creative, amazing businesses that make our downtown vibrant and a great place to be! Downtowns are a hub for community connection and important to urban life and create economic, social, and cultural benefits. I’ve heard from downtown businesses and citizens regarding an increase in social issues and concerns of community safety. These concerns should be addressed from a place of collaboration. We must find ways to offer dignity to the vulnerable populations who are not yet part of recovery and detox programs, and work on addressing the social determinants of health and wellbeing together with other municipalities and develop intergovernmental coordination and policy innovation. The community wellbeing safety strategy points to the complexity of these issues and the need for a community-based approach. This includes working with First Nations and Metis leadership to develop culturally appropriate actions and continue work towards truth and reconciliation. A vibrant downtown requires people. It will be important to engage businesses, organizations, residents, and investors to focus on ongoing revitalization through programs and incentives, such as public art, TRIP, festivals and address parking and livability. Existing programs should be evaluated for efficacy. There is no quick fix. We must be united and focused as a Council and community, remain engaged and have clear objectives and measurable outcomes. As Mayor, I do not have the answers, but I am committed that we work towards them.”
“We need to address the lack of housing that is pushing people to live on the street and in Downtown, that by human nature, allows them to interact with other people. Interaction is basic human need. This home has to have a sense of security and privacy. It has to be low maintenance and highly durable. It has to have a high capacity turn around time. There has to be support services available especially in crisis moments. There has to be access for physical and mental health services. There has to be community acceptance and responsibility. No project is going to be an utopia answer, but making no attempt to seek or create a solution will be a blight on our community. There needs to be provincial government cooperation and contribution. In fact, I would be expecting that in light of the detrimental impact of the failed harm reduction program. I am not an addictions or mental health specialist; I have been quite creative in housing and alternative approaches to housing. I believe that I can develop this solution effectively with some consultation and hard work to make the difference that we are all needing to experience.
I need Lethbridge to have that sense of city amenities with that hometown feeling again. We are a community and we take care of those in our community. Lethbridge is a community of people, with real people concerns, real people needs and the real people capacity to be courageous enough to make Lethbridge home.”
“Revitalizing and improving downtown will take a collective effort on the part of government, downtown business owners and the citizens of Lethbridge. The municipality should be focused on providing the environment where businesses will want to invest, stay and grow in the downtown core. The City of Lethbridge should be focused on providing a clean, friendly and safe environment downtown for citizens and visitors alike. Safety and orderliness should be the number one priority the city addresses in the coming years. That may require extra resources to the City Police with expanding the CPO program and The Watch. Safety is always a good investment if done effectively and efficiently. Secondly, the construction of Festival Square will be a great indicator of whether future developments like this will have the intended effect of drawing more people into the downtown area. If proven successful, future ideas and developments should be expedited to grow upon the strength of this project.”
“I love what the City has done downtown with the 3rd Avenue project, which will serve the businesses in that area well. What we need to do now is employ solutions to address the homeless and drug crises. We need to look at solutions being explored by other communities and determine what fits with the issues we’re facing and how to apply them in a way that works for our community. I’m inspired by the Homes for Heroes tiny home village in Calgary, Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centres near Edmonton, and the Village Project Indigenous-led rapid housing initiative in Winnipeg. In addition to addressing these social issues, we should also consider commercial space, parking, and transit. Innovative solutions that focus on efficiency and instability could go a long way toward revitalizing downtown and I’m prepared to engage with colleagues and stakeholders in determining the best approach to each of these.”
“A vibrant downtown is good for our whole city, and supporting local businesses and public spaces that create inclusive and positive spaces in our downtown is important to me as a citizen and a community builder. I want to realize the Civic Commons vision with a multi-use space that supports our Arts and Culture community, as well as equitable access to a recreation facility and our public parks. I recognize there are concerns from downtown residents. As a resident of Victoria Park, I rely on the services and businesses in our core. And, I see the increased visibility of poverty, the lack of public spaces for folks to use, and share the concerns that result from economic injustice. Data driven evidence clearly demonstrates that investments in basic needs that boost economic security, like safe housing and food security, decrease both violent crime and property theft. Investing in crime prevention is an effective way to use our tax dollars more efficiently, make our community safer and free up policing resources to tackle serious and complex crime. Beyond that, working with a whole community approach to poverty and economic injustice brings about stronger supports that meets folks where they are at, and leads with dignity and respect. That is the approach I will bring to city council and is what I believe will build a stronger Lethbridge.”
“To address the concerns, we first need to identify them. The first identifiable concern is safety, safety in our downtown. This issue must be addressed. Throughout my campaign, I have been told time and time again that citizens do not feel safe shopping in our downtown. When customers need to ring a bell to enter a business, this is concerning for not only those customers wanting to shop but also the business owners that need this level of security at their establishments. Until we address these concerns and others from engaging our downtown businesses, I believe many businesses will continue to struggle. We can put all the beautiful planters and restaurant bump-outs in the downtown, but without addressing the safety issue, it’s my opinion that we have failed our downtown businesses.”
“To fix the concerns of the downtown, there needs to be attention paid to both the economic and social situations. Economically, our downtown businesses need to remain competitive. One way to achieve that is through fixing the parking problem. Many business owners have told me that they believe paid parking downtown is driving business to our outlying big-box stores, where parking is free. Our small businesses should not be punished for choosing downtown as their place to conduct business, and if elected, addressing downtown parking will be a priority for me. In addition, coming out of the pandemic, we need to do our best to attract larger events and festivals downtown, so that we may generate foot traffic and economic spinoff for our restaurants and retail stores there. For those events to thrive downtown though, we need to address the social issues. There needs to be a greater emphasis on safety in the downtown. This can be done by making sure our police are properly equipped and funded to ensure that people feel safe moving through the downtown core. In addition to this, finding a long-term solution to the drug crisis (through detox and rehabilitation) should be a top priority for the oncoming council as well. Through addressing both avenues, the economy and social issues, we can truly achieve a downtown that can thrive!”