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Bus facility proposal hits the ditch

The City of Prince George has a long history of approving needed developments in dumb locations.
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The City of Prince George has a long history of approving needed developments in dumb locations.

If city council approves the proposed transit operations and maintenance facility at 18th Avenue and Foothills, it will be the latest addition to that list.

Downtown revitalization has never happened, despite numerous studies and plans drafted over the last 50 years, because the city councils of the day took the easy way out. The university, the arena, the playhouse, Costco, Superstore and Wal-Mart were all projects that could have been forced downtown to rejuvenate the city centre.

The university had endowment lands set aside but Prince George continues to pay both the financial and social costs of putting UNBC up on Cranbrook hill. Financially, University Way was a headache to build and is costly to maintain, as are all of city services to that out-of-the-way location. Geographically, the university is a part of the city and apart from the city, meaning that its staff and students are far less connected to local residents and vice versa. The numerous downtown or near downtown universities across Canada are much more integrated into their cities.

Same goes for the arena. The Multiplex was built on the Exhibition Grounds to allow for parking. Strangely, other cities, from Kelowna on up to Vancouver and Toronto, build their arenas downtown, making them a central part of city life.

Imagine the buzz of energy and activity in downtown if either or both of those facilities had been built downtown or nearby.

Imagine if the city had had the nerve to tell major retail and commercial developers that downtown was the only option for them.

Downtown would still have its share of problems but the situation would be vastly better than what is there now.

But the city lacked the courage and the vision.

An art gallery, a courthouse, a police detachment and now a hotel have helped but much more is needed.

The $23 million transit facility would help, if it was located along First Avenue or in the light industrial area east of Queensway. It would be a good fit from both a land-use perspective, as well as being centrally located.

The local residents who left Thursday night's forum are right to be frustrated by an internal planning process that considered no other location and is offering nothing but a take-it-or-leave-it option. That's a disservice, not just to area residents but also to city council.

Mayor Lyn Hall and the eight city councillors are the ones that ultimately have to decide the fate of this proposal.

Decision makers, whether in business, politics or doing the family grocery shopping, prefer choices, rather than something or nothing. More importantly, the mayor and the councillors are the ones that have to bear the outcome of their decision with voters.

The least senior administration and the planning department could have done is offered alternatives to their political masters.

Worst of all, there was no answer give to the public Thursday night, either from B.C. Transit manager Levi Timmermans or Ian Wells, the city's planning and development manager, about what happens if city council, after hearing from the public, votes against the facility.

Will the city's buses turn into pumpkins at midnight? Will the city's transit system grind to a halt? Will the current facility in the BCR abruptly fall off the face of the Earth?

"We will not be discussing any other sites," Wells told the audience, which it seems included the current location that will somehow, some way, have to remain the current location if city council says so.

There were no answers Thursday but there had better be answers in June, when this proposal goes to a public hearing before city council.

Without further explanation and justification, residents are right to be angry and the mayor and council would be right to give this proposal the thumbs down.

-- Managing editor Neil Godbout