Riverfront village back out for review

The Arts and Heritage Village isn’t dead, but it’s on life support. After critics eviscerated the concept — criticizing everything…

The Arts and Heritage Village isn’t dead, but it’s on life support.

After critics eviscerated the concept — criticizing everything from its design, tenant leases and even its lack of parking — government support for the long-awaited development evaporated.

This year, at best, the waterfront’s anchor project survives on a shoestring. And maybe less.

“It’s a compelling vision and it’s a good initial vision, but we need to open it up for a more public discussion,” said Tourism and Culture minister Elaine Taylor.

Translation: we’re sending it back to the drawing board.

Taylor didn’t know how much the renewed consultation would cost. No official contacted by The News could say how much more would be spent on project planning.

There’s nothing noted in the budget.

And a tourism official said there’s nothing there because no contract has been tendered yet.

Tourism and Culture doesn’t know when it will be tendered.

It doesn’t know when the consultations will begin.

It doesn’t know how many consultation sessions will be held.

It hasn’t decided what form they will take.

But $60,000 grant from Economic Development and $20,000 from Artspace North and a lot of volunteer elbow grease has already been poured into the project.

After two years of planning and research, Artspace North partnered with the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce to draft a 94-page development plan, released in January 2006.

It outlined plans for a series of warehouse-like buildings, trails, trees and wharves along the Yukon River, roughly between Elliot and Wood Street.

The buildings would mix art space — a dance studio, a theatre, a recital hall, an expanded MacBride Museum and artist studios — with business space for local retailers, and park space with trees and trails beside the water.

It also recommended the government pony up $16.9 million for building development, with some possible help from the feds. The total project cost was estimated at $22 million.

The plan suggested the territory budget $2 million in 2006 for startup, design and basic services, and $7 million to $8 million in 2007 for initial construction with the remainder to come in 2008.

The government reviewed the report, balked and sent it back out for more public consultation.

Despite the setback, Artspace North Society president MJ Warshawski is undeterred.

“I don’t see this as another plan that’s going to get shelved,” she said. “At first I thought: ‘Oh no, are you guys sidestepping again?’ But I realized that there is valuable input still to be had.”

So far, the project has focused on the needs of businesses and arts and heritage institutions; now it’s time to bring others into the discussion — like outfitters, artisans and downtown residents, said Warshawski.

“Most people who look at this plan go: ‘Great, but I’d like to see this,’ or ‘Have you thought of that?’” she said.

“This next step will take that all into play.”

“I can see that, if you bring in things like children’s activities, outdoor operators, artisans and the needs of the downtown residents, this is just going to get richer and richer.”

Artspace North will host a public meeting on the development Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre.

It needs to be noted, this has nothing to do with the government’s nebulous consultation scheme.

Reps from the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Yukon Society and Yukon’s department of Culture will be there to talk and answer questions.

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