By Steve Hubrecht 

[email protected] 

There will be no pedestrian-only main street in Invermere on Fridays and Saturdays this summer.

The Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce undertook a downtown experience survey earlier this winter asking the opinions of local business owners and residents on that topic. Last week, during a committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20, Chamber executive director Pete Bourke presented the results of the survey to council members. 

The results showed a clear majority of local residents either strongly agree or somewhat agree with creating a vehicle-free pedestrian area in downtown Invermere on some days during the summer by closing down main street to vehicle traffic. But local business owners were sharply and almost evenly divided, with slightly more than half not agreeing with the idea and slightly less than half either strongly agreeing or somewhat agreeing with it.

“The (survey) results were not overwhelmingly in favour of a closure. There was a clear split in opinion (from business owners),” Invermere Mayor Al Miller told the Pioneer at the council meeting that immediately followed committee of the whole. “At this point I don’t see any main street closure coming this year, unless something changes in the next few months.”

Controversy has erupted at least twice in the past decade over the idea of a main street closure to create a pedestrian-only area downtown. In early 2020 there was considerable backlash from downtown business owners upset and angry that such a closure would negatively impact their business. Following that backlash, council quickly dropped discussions on the topic. After the 2020 hubbub councillors vowed that, in the future, any main street closure plans would need to originate from the local business community.

This time the discussion on a pedestrian-only downtown was indeed started by the Invermere Business Committee, but Miller pointed out that the survey did not show a strong majority of downtown business owners in support.

“The regular public supports this, but the business community is mixed on it,” said Miller, adding the business owners are the ones with their livelihood possibly in jeopardy with a main street closure and their concerns need to be respected.

The survey garnered 45 responses from downtown businesses and organizations. Of those, 51 per cent did not support a vehicle-free pedestrian area in downtown Invermere, while 49 per cent either strongly supported it or somewhat supported it. (That further broke down as 40 per cent strongly in support of a vehicle-free pedestrian area, and nine per cent somewhat in support of it.)

Several business owners added written comments to their survey responses. These were kept anonymous in the report given to Invermere council. Almost all of these comments included in the report were against a main street closure. One comment read: “The logistics of this would be a nightmare and if not done perfectly will be a flop and mimic the feeling of a ghost town.” The commenter suggested creating new events or attractions in the shoulder season instead of the summer “would be more valuable to our downtown than worrying about how to make our busiest time of the year busier.”

The survey got 989 responses from the general public. That included 815 from full-time Columbia Valley residents, 148 from part-time residents, 17 from visitors and nine “other.” The full-time valley residents included 542 from Invermere, 83 from Windermere, 81 from Radium Hot Springs, 54 from Fairmont Hot Springs, 28 from Edgewater and seven from Canal Flats. Of those, 69 per cent either strongly or somewhat agreed with a pedestrian-only downtown area, while 31 per cent did not agree with it. (Those in favour further broke down to 58 per cent strongly in support of a pedestrian-only zone and 11 per cent somewhat in support of it.)