A downtown site has become the source of debate in Okotoks.
Known as the Landmark site, land at McRae Street and Clark Avenue, across the street from Monkey Mountain Toys and Games, has recently drawn the attention of potential businesses looking to set up shop in Okotoks.
To accommodate those businesses – including a microbrewery – Okotoks council changed the land use of the site to direct control, allowing for a microbrewery at the location provided certain parameters are met, like design control and ensuring the building would be odour-free.
Director of development services Michael MacIntyre said the microbrewery is one of about four potential business that have shown interest in the Landmark site. The Town is preparing to bring in a business that will bring some vitality to downtown, he said.
“The community sustainability plan talks about animating the downtown, which is a fancy way of saying having enough business or critical mass of different types of businesses, specialty shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, that would bring more people into the downtown,” said MacIntyre. “We’re talking about both residents as well as tourists.”
Some people have expressed a desire to see a new plaza erected on the site, which would be in keeping with recommendations from tourism consultant Roger Brooks, who worked with the Town in 2015-2016, he said.
The plaza envisioned by the branding team would include some small shops around a central area that could accommodate programming, like a skating rink in the winter, he said. After some study it was determined the Landmark site wouldn’t be large enough to support the plaza the Town is looking for, he said.
“I think people have a pretty good handle on what that plaza needs to look like, but they haven’t identified where that ideal location is,” said MacIntyre. “That’s not going to be on this site, but it’s still something we’re working on.”
Okotoks resident Naydene Lewis said she’s concerned about the type of development Town council is considering on the Landmark site.
She said she’d prefer to see it used as an entertainment area for families, along the lines of the plaza suggested by Brooks. The site poses its own challenges, being removed slightly from the existing Olde Towne Okotoks plaza, she said.
“I don’t have the answer,” said Lewis. “I guess it’s a wait and see, and hopefully whatever goes there, the microbrewery or distillery or whatever, will have a strong business sense and will be able to draw the people in.
“As long as it’s not on the taxpayers’ dime, I’m all for it.”
MacIntyre said budget is a major issue with developing a plaza. By allowing a business to open on the Landmark site instead, the Town can benefit from a surge in the local economy rather than spending taxpayer dollars, he said.
“We have control as the landowner, the seller of the property if council decides to sell,” said MacIntyre. “The types of uses we’re looking for are things that support the vision of entertainment and eating establishments.”
The direction of development will ultimately be up to council, he said. It’s been a long and slow process because the Town wants to make sure the right choices are made, he said, and it’s time to make decisions and move ahead.
Ed Povhe, Okotoks resident and owner of Bistro 1882 on North Railway Street, said he’s pleased to see some movement on the property and forward momentum in the downtown.
“I’ve been here six years and there’s been absolutely no investment in the downtown really, and all the way around the town tens of millions of dollars of investment,” said Povhe. “This has been hard to watch.”
As a member of the Downtown Steering Committee and the Olde Towne Okotoks merchants group, he said he’s been part of the process in rebranding downtown and has been disappointed to see it take so long to implement any changes.
Seeing the outskirts of town, such as the business park and retail areas in south Okotoks, develop while downtown remained at a stand-still was tough, he said.
“When you have investment in a town and none of it is in the core, to me that’s a problem,” said Povhe. “It’s not like there wasn’t money coming into town, it was just targeted to everywhere but downtown, and that Landmark site is a prime piece of property for downtown, too. You don’t have to be Roger Brooks to know that.”
He said he doesn’t care whether it’s a microbrewery or another use, but something needs to happen on the site to give downtown Okotoks the push it needs to develop and change.
Without businesses or services to attract residents and tourists, Okotoks could be in danger of seeing its downtown become stagnant, he said.
“The best time to plant your tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is today,” said Povhe. “And that tree hasn’t been planted. Now’s the time to move, to make changes, and it’s moving too slowly for me.
“You just can’t lose your downtown.”