Park is key to downtown

The future of Red Deer’s downtown is once again on the drawing table. This time, the notions about what would make the city’s core more attractive and durable should be pursued aggressively.

The future of Red Deer’s downtown is once again on the drawing table.

This time, the notions about what would make the city’s core more attractive and durable should be pursued aggressively.

Last week, an ambitious concept for Rotary Recreation Park was unveiled by city officials. Essentially, it calls for the development of a superpark, encompassing the current Recreation Centre, the Arena and Kinex, the Museum and Archives, the tennis complex and the various parks and facilities in that general area.

A superpark would become the hub of a refashioned Red Deer in which the downtown is a destination for families, day and night and year round — but it will require huge commitment from the public, community groups and the corporate citizenry.

It would feature walkways, ponds and outdoor skating areas, a new 50-metre swimming pool and more indoor ice surfaces. The general plan would compartmentalize areas of recreation: an aquatics centre; an ice centre with two more arenas; a tennis centre and more. It would answer a critical shortage of facilities in a number of key areas.

But the park would also feature a grand entranceway and have a sense of whole, rather than a random collection of facilities. It would be a destination onto itself and offer facilities for events.

Coupled with the Riverlands initiative and the Greater Downtown Action Plan, the Rotary Recreation Park proposal deserves strong endorsement and then a quick move to planning and implementation.

City officials, including community services director Colleen Jensen and Mayor Morris Flewwelling, aren’t putting a timeline on the project. They know that, beyond the planning labyrinth that must be negotiated, there are huge financial and logistical challenges.

“I think the challenge is going to be funding and the scheduling and the implementation,” Flewwelling told the Advocate.

The Greater Downtown Action Plan’s intent is to give the core of the city a new purpose: a renewed residential component, coupled with a vibrant entertainment, retail and restaurant district.

And the Riverlands vision, on land newly vacated with the relocation of the civic yards, gives the concept plan a great jumping off point.

But it is the Rotary Recreation Park proposal that will give a rejuvenated downtown its heart.

There are plenty of ideas floating around about the potential for downtown, including a civic wishlist that includes a newly expanded City Hall complex, an upgraded library, the vision for Riverlands, an arts centre with performance areas, galleries and perhaps including a new museum and archives, and now a superpark.

In total, it would make for an attractive, vibrant, magnetic downtown.

But it is not all feasible in the short term, and perhaps maybe not at all.

And there are conflicting notions that must be resolved. For example, the public market’s future has now been mapped out twice: once in the new superpark and once in the old civic bus barns in Riverlands (in this proposal, the market becomes a year-round fixture). And facets of the superpark proposal raise serious questions: convenient and ample parking and the willingness of the tennis club to abandon plans to take over the curling centre among them.

But the superpark should be the priority, both for the city and for service groups, sports and recreation organizations and corporate sponsors. It will require a significant financial commitment from all those groups. This is not the climate to expect multimillion-dollar projects to be financed by government alone, at any level.

The investment by the groups, businesses and citizens, however, will pay huge dividends. A superpark can become the catalyst for a rebirth downtown, starting from the heart of the community: its families.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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