By Herald on September 29, 2021.
Tim Kalinowski – Lethbridge Herald
For the second night in a row Lethbridge’s mayoral candidates convened to discuss the issues facing the city, and tried to convince voters they are the best person to vote for.
During Tuesday’s Downtown Business Revitalization Zone debate candidates discussed their visions to make Lethbridge a better, safer and more vital place for all residents, and, perhaps surprisingly, found widespread agreement among themselves on the issue.
Candidate Sheldon Joseph Day Chief said Lethbridge needs to put a more concerted effort in to solving the city’s social issues, particularly in the downtown.
“It’s effecting everything of this city,” he stated. “It is city-wide, and we are a hub of rising crime. It has effected our safety and our well-being of everybody. We have seen news articles of human trafficking … But we have other deaths that are happening three in a week, or two, at our women’s shelter. That, in itself, should be top right now, because if we don’t deal with our social issues, no matter how much economic development or beautifying the city we can do, that problem is going to be there for the whole city.”
Blaine Hyggen concurred, and remembered back to a time when his family used to have picnics together in Galt Gardens back in the 1980s.
“I daresay that I would be concerned to do that today, and it’s because of some of the social concerns,” he stated. “I remember seeing one time this mickey (of alcohol) I was walking through the park, and I thought it was the end of the world. Now this is far greater than that. It’s needle debris … Those social concerns need to be addressed, because until we address those our downtown businesses won’t flourish the way they could.”
Gary Klassen said he did not despair, and believed Galt Gardens could be a beautiful place once again.
“Downtown is like your living room,” he said. “You don’t want to have stuff going on downtown, begging, drugs, or homelessness or addictions. They all go together. The homelessness and the addictions lead to the crime, and the crime downtown is terrible.
“That used to be such a beautiful park, and it can be again,” Klassen emphasized. “So it has to be cleaned up to make it back the way it was.”
Bridget Mearns said what she felt when she talked to voters was a passion and energy to work together downtown to set things right.
“People are looking for this to be solved from a place of collaboration and dignity for all, and that’s where we are going to find our solutions,” she stated. “I think (Downtown) is a great place, and it has a great future.”
Stephen Mogdan said not only must Lethbridge citizens come together to work on these problems, but they must also work on finding a true love for their city again in making this effort by avoiding negativity and division.
“Also coupled with that (social problem) is the perception of what those issues are,” he stated, “and it is something we need to examine very carefully because sometimes we make that situation a little bit worse than we actually need to. Show me a downtown that doesn’t have concerns.”
While all candidates agreed the main source of the problem impeding downtown growth and prosperity was the social disorder found there, they were not so unanimous in their solutions to those problems.
Hyggen said the City needed to restore police funding to get more “feet on the street” as first priority.
“Let’s get some feet on the street, and let’s get some officers,” he said. “And not just officers to deal with it, because, of course, we need to address the root concerns. That can come by way of we have SAGE Clan, we have groups that help with our downtown social issues … But so often it is housing– housing first. We know we can’t get a job unless we have a house. You don’t have a house, you can’t have a job. What that does is it gives them a place, an address, to employment.”
Day Chief said what was needed was strong leadership on council to make sure efforts to revitalize downtown are being channelled properly. He gave the example of Festival Street, which is mainly, in his summation, being used as one big parking lot at this time, to explain what he meant.
“We should be catering to and supporting those small businesses that don’t have customers that are accessing their stores,” he said. “So why don’t we build that as an outsized walking area or dining area, or whatever; so we can support those small businesses downtown. And even looking at the land taxes– those small businesses rent from building owners. Why don’t we look at reducing some of those taxes so that can filter down into the small businesses?”
Mearns said what city council has done over the past four years in giving targeted grants and incentives for downtown business growth should continue.
“I think revitalizing downtown requires people to live there, and celebrate there, and be there,” she said. “And for businesses to be open and successful.”
Mearns also championed the idea of a drop-in centre similar to what Calgary has to give homeless people a place to go during the day so they wouldn’t have to be wandering around downtown aimlessly.
Klassen agreed the key was giving homeless people a place to stay.
“Then they won’t be hanging around loitering and causing any grief,” he said. “Downtown businesses need some help. They shouldn’t be taxed so hard they can keep things going. But to increase the downtown businesses, you have to keep the crime away, you got to keep the homeless out, and you got to keep out the drugs.”
Mogdan said city council should step forward to support the entrepreneurs, and look to them for vision and guidance.
“Really to get to that true vibrancy, and enhancing that downtown, we need to be creative,” Mogdan said. “We need to partner with entrepreneurs who have a view and vision of bringing events into the downtown. We look at things like Festival Square, and I think that is a step in the right direction.
“We need to be courageous,” he added. “We need to make sure we are not afraid to incentivize development.”
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