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Looking back at ‘09: Kelowna’s changing landscape

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 | 3:19 pm

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<p>Construction workers work on the ice rink/public plaza area of Stuart Park. (Photo Adrian NIeoczym)</p>

Construction workers work on the ice rink/public plaza area of Stuart Park, one of the many projects launched in 2009 that are transforming Kelowna. (Photo Adrian NIeoczym)

By Adrian Nieoczym

From our perspective, the Central Okanagan’s most significant arrival of 2009 happened June 16. That was when Kelowna.com officially launched as this area’s newest and if we do say so ourselves -greatest- media outlet and one-stop shop for everything to do with Kelowna (and more recently West Kelowna, with the launch of WestKelowna.com this fall.)

Of course our perspective is just a wee bit self-centred. Truth be told, our birth and baptism by fire (we were barely two months old when the West Kelowna fires broke out, which is easily the biggest story we have covered so far) is only one of many significant changes to our landscape over the last 12 months.

The transformation of Kelowna’s downtown waterfront is firmly underway. Construction of Stuart Park, named after former Kelowna mayor Jim Stuart and first announced in 1996, finally began in July. At the beginning of the year, when construction costs were higher than they are today, city council had to trim the park’s price tag and seriously considered cutting an outdoor skating rink from the plans.

But in the end, the feature was deemed too important and Kelowna residents and visitors will soon be able to lace up their skates and go for a glide next to the lake, perhaps as early as late next month.

And just a few weeks a go a plan was approved to move the yacht club and Water Street Seniors’ Centre, opening up more space for an expansion of the park and more public access to the waterfront.

We also found out in 2009 that next year the long promised passport office will open in the Capri Centre, something which is badly needed in a city our size that is also a hub for surrounding communities.

Our growing population is also behind all the construction going on at Kelowna General Hospital, which is getting a new patient tower and a UBC Okanagan medical school facility. Plans are also being developed for a new cardiac care and surgical centre and Kelowna’s first ever cardiac surgery was performed at KGH in November.

And while the growth of UBCO’s campus continued with students having to make their way around construction cranes to get to class while coping with a parking crunch, Okanagan College is also bursting at the seams as demand for its trades and career programs skyrockets. The college got a little more space this fall when it celebrated the opening of its state of the art Learning Centre.

When the provincial and federal governments launched their economic stimulus spending programs and asked municipalities to come forward with “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects, Kelowna was ready with a giant wish list. Work on a whole of host of projects, from recreational facilities, to biking and walking to trails, to roadwork, will continue through 2010 as officials race to complete the projects before the money tap is turned off.

Alas, no amount of money could prevent Kelowna’s Rails-with-Trails project from coming off the rails after CN refused to grant the city access to more of its railway corridor despite having allowed it to build the first kilometre of trail between Gordon and Spall, a privilege Kelowna taxpayers shelled out a cool $1 million for.

Meanwhile, the last remnants of the old Okanagan Lake floating bridge were finally dealt with this year after council tried in vain on several occasions to come up with a plan to reuse leftover pontoons to build a public pier and marina. Instead the pontoons were towed to a graving dock where they were to be pulverized and reused as road gravel.

One of the biggest arrivals of 2009 was a Russian Antonov AN-124 plane. Hundreds of curious onlookers greeted the giant bird when it landed at Kelowna International Airport in September, so it could be serviced at Kelowna Flightcraft.

2009 also witnessed the death knell of several Kelowna institutions. An attempt to bring hydroplane racing back to Okanagan Lake sunk, while a lack of ticket sales meant the end of Festivals Kelowna’s latest attempt to stage a “signature” summer festival.

The Liquid Zoo, one of Kelowna’s most infamous drinking establishments, lost its liquor license when the liquor board determined the strip joint’s owners have links to organized crime.

Finally, Kelowna lost another lost another mainstay of its shrinking manufacturing sector this year, when Crown Packaging, which had been making its cardboard boxes in Kelowna since the 1970s, closed its doors.

adrian@kelowna.com

250-575-3517

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