Council approves new master plan for Swift Current downtown
A three-year process to create a new vision for Swift Current's downtown reached its conclusion when councillors approved the new downtown master plan for use at a regular council meeting, July 30.
The development of the new master plan started in 2015 and the City contracted urban planning consultants to guide the process, which included four public engagement events.
The first public engagement event took place in November 2015 and the fourth one was organized in January 2017.
Michael Ruus, the City of Swift Current's general manager of planning and development, felt his department achieved the goal to involve residents in discussions about the downtown.
“This was really the first project that our team took on where we really pushed to engage as many people within the community as was possible,” he said. “I think in large part we were able to achieve our goals on that side of things with over 300 people attending our in-person meetings, whether it be stakeholder group meetings or one-on-one meetings with individual property owners or businesses or our open houses, and having over 200 people respond to our online engagement forums is fantastic. So really this entire plan and project is the sum of hundreds of people’s input over this three-year period.”
The purpose of the master plan is to provide a vision for the future of the downtown and it includes strategies to achieve the downtown revitalization objectives in the City's strategic plan.
The master plan includes details about 12 catalyst projects created by the consulting team to present ideas about changes in the downtown area that will promote greater connectivity and economic vitality.
These catalyst projects are just conceptual and it does not mean the City will be implementing any of them. They were developed to give residents, business owners and investors an idea of what is possible in the downtown through a combination of facade improvements, adaptive reuse of existing buildings and mixed-use development.
The new master plan includes a downtown development pattern book that can be used as a visual reference and implementation tool to ensure compatible development and redevelopment within the downtown district. Ruus noted the purpose of the pattern book is to be a voluntary education guide for downtown development, and it will be used by the City for planning purposes.
“As part of our development of the pattern book, one of the big projects moving forward is determining what our new standard is going to be in the downtown for our streetscape,” he said.
The master plan contains a lot of details and it will therefore not mean that there will be an instant transformation of the downtown area.
“The intent of this plan is to phase in improvements over time,” he said. “So we’re looking more at incremental change than changing the entire downtown overnight.”
Ruus and his team will now take a good look at all the strategies outlined in the plan to determine how these principles can be incorporated into future planning for the downtown area.
“Some of them we’ve already started, knowing that they have been identified in other projects such as the business retention and expansion program,” he said. “One of the pieces out of that was our wayfinding system, and finding that commonality with the downtown plan made it really easy to get that moving as soon as possible. So we’ll have that completed this year even with hopeful implementation in 2020, but we’ll start to pick away at those pieces that are most feasible to move forward in the short term and then for those larger pieces in the plan we’ll be working at taking it step by step, making incremental improvements every day.”
The City will be implementing a number of projects in the near future that will incorporate principles from the new downtown master plan, starting with the new streetscape design out of the pattern book. The first area where this will be rolled out over the next year will be on Chaplin Street between Central Avenue and First Avenue NW.
The City has already started work on the Centennial Market District, which will become a focal point in the downtown through improvements in the area around Market Square, the farmers market and Centennial Plaza.
“We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to start some of the improvements planned for that district over the next five to 10-year period,” he said. “We’ve already been working at the flag court with the Community Services Division on putting in some new planting beds. We’ve got plans to install a new gateway sign for the new downtown core. So it will be a pretty impactful improvement even over the next year.”
Ruus believes it is important to continue the process of engagement that started during the consultation process for the downtown master plan.
“We need to be still engaged with the businesses in the downtown core and the businesses outside of the downtown core as well,” he said. “They all play a part in what makes our existing downtown fantastic and the programming that we have available. So really that’s a primary piece moving forward, but also partnering with our local Main Street board and some of the other interested people in moving this plan forward. If we can do that and explore other resources, then hopefully we'll be able to encourage business owners in the downtown to move forward with some of their projects that they’ve in most cases been dreaming of for years.”