“The words hung over the room like a soaring eagle as soon as they came out of Mayor Dan Rogers’ mouth.
‘…maybe your vision for downtown includes a restaurant on Connaught Hill…'”
There’s been a lot of talk lately about downtown Prince George. For years decades it’s been a point of contention for residents, as everybody debates how, or even if, it could be revitalized as an urban hub. This isn’t a post about that. This is a post about the idea quoted above, from the mayor of our city, sparked by the downtown debate, that I just can’t shake.
Why? Why? Why?
Why would this seem like a good idea?
Granted, it’s just an idea, thrown out as a bit of a brainstorm, but I’m a little bit disturbed at the thought of it catching on. I mean, just look at the breathless way the Citizen chose to describe it. There’s the possibility that the watercooler talk and letters to the editor just might be enough to make somebody pursue this. They shouldn’t.
First off, according to this tool, Connaught Hill Park is roughly 0.03034 km², or 3.034 hectares in size. In the aforementioned article, it is said that “The experience of other B.C. municipalities indicates it is absolutely possible to build a restaurant inside a city park. Stanley Park alone has four, all of them medium-to high-end dining (plus vendors, concessions, and eateries at the Vancouver Aquarium and other park attractions).” Really? We’re drawing comparisons to Stanley Park here? Stanley Park which is 404.9 hectares large, bigger even than New York’s Central park? I mean… just… seriously?
You want to know how big the Keg, a mid-sized downtown restaurant, is? Five percent of Connaught Hill park’s total. That’s not counting parking, the need to add services, a dumpster, and the like. You’re basically proposing taking one of the nicest views in the city and replacing it with a garden for the restaurant.
I get the appeal. Prince George is seriously lacking in nice, outdoor dining. But there’s no shortage of alternatives– two are just throwing ’em out there, the third is one I really think should be pursued.
1. Fort George Park
Fort George Park is far bigger than Connaught Hill, plus it has the added benefit of not being on a hill, already having multiple parking spots, and having other destinations you could build beside (a museum, for example). Oh, and there’s the possibility of getting a view of the river. Which brings me to
2. Beside a River
Of all the poor planning that has cursed Prince George in the modern age, it’s the complete under utilization of the rivers in our public space. There’s plenty of walking trails alongside them, but very little in the way of anemities where one might sit and contemplate it in a manner other than a picnic, in the same way that oceanside dining does in our coastal cities.
While we don’t have any retail/commercial venues beside rivers, we do have some very nice heritage houses in some severely undervalued neighbourhoods (undervalued largely because of crime rates, mind you, but no worse than those in the neighbourhoods surrounding Connaught Hill). If you’re going to put all that investment into an area that’s out of the way anyways, why not use it as a catalyst for bringing in other home-based busineses or bed and breakfasts into areas in need of a little touching up? Not the greatest idea, but I would prefer to see a NEW public space created alongside a river rather than lose a nice existing one to a commercial development.
3. The Roof of the Civic Centre
I actually think this is an extremely viable option. First, it’s within the downtown, which serves the purpose of developing it. Second, it has nice view. I eat my lunch beside the Art Gallery on occassion, and it’s quite the pleasant summer scene, with a fountain and Art Gallery on the one side, and the green of Connaught Hill Park overlooking everything.
In the winter, you get lights and a skating rink:
Unlike Connaught Hill, which is closed in the winter, Civic Plaza is open all year long. It is an existing facility, so you wouldn’t neccessarily need to staff it all the time, as it has other revenue sources. It already has catering service, so you could easily open a rooftop restaurant during the nice summer months and, if necessary, shut down or move indoors when it gets colder. It’s large enough that you could create a rooftop garden for atmosphere.
Now, it’s very possible that there’s many good reasons this wouldn’t work that I’m just not aware of. But if we’re spitballing here, I’d like to see this enter the conversation.
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