Kelowna may close Bernard Avenue earlier this year

Bernard closure in May

Downtown Kelowna's Meet Me on Bernard event could begin six weeks early for some businesses this year.

City council is being asked to approve closing down the 200 block of Bernard to vehicle traffic beginning on the May long weekend.

Businesses on the 300 to 500 block would be allowed to extend their patios into the parking stalls in front of their businesses if they choose at the same time.

Those portions of Bernard would then be blocked off to vehicle traffic, as they have the last three years, on July 1.

The closure of the lower four blocks of Bernard Avenue began in 2020 as a way for businesses to increase their capacity in the wake of restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the closure has been popular with residents and tourists visiting downtown and a boom for some businesses, especially those restaurants, pubs and coffee shops in the lower blocks of Bernard, some businesses in the 400 and 500 blocks have complained the closure did nothing for and, in some cases, hurt business.

The city has tried to address those concerns with more activities including live music, special events, parklets and public art to better activate those blocks.

The Meet Me on Bernard committee, which included city staff, members of the Downtown Kelowna Association and Tourism Kelowna are recommending the change this summer.

They are also recommending the event shut down following the Labour Day long weekend as in past years, despite calls to extend it into September.

The committee recommend the regular closure to allow for a proper assessment and to fully understand the impacts of an earlier implementation before exploring any further extensions.

"This proposal would accommodate the large concentration and enthusiasm of restaurants on the 200 block as well as those businesses on the 300 to 500 blocks who have expressed interest," the committee states in its report for council.

The committee further states the feedback from businesses and the public has been mostly positive over the past few years with highlights including the beautification of Bernard, event activations and an inclusive and accessible atmosphere.

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