Caring Place is staying put

Businesses, district looking for Maple Ridge downtown fix

If you want to fix the downtown, everybody’s got to do their bit, but the Caring Place isn’t moving elsewhere.

While complaints and letters keep piling in about the state of the downtown, people who pull the strings are trying to do something about it.

About 35 business people, the chamber of commerce and the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association showed up and agreed that every business, social service agency or property owner has to do his or her part.

“It was really clear that it takes all sectors to make it a vibrant place,” said Kelly Swift, parks and recreation services general manager.

She organized the meeting after council requested a report on the state of the downtown after complaints about crime and drugs growing in the area.

But when it comes to the social agencies, such as the Salvation Army’s The Caring Place on 222nd Street, they’re not going anywhere.

“The reality is some of our key social service agencies are in fairly high-profile locations in the downtown. And that’s a reality that we’re dealing with,” Swift said.

“There’s recognition that there’s an impact as result of that, on the image of downtown.”

The group acknowledged that such agencies are an important part of the downtown and that they aren’t like to relocate. That’s not realistic, said Swift.

“There was recognition that they were doing good work, that the service is needed.”

It was also agreed that some parts of central Maple Ridge can be improved, with better lighting and pedestrian access.

Some buildings can be improved in order to reduce crime, while every landlord should participate in a multi-family, anti-crime program.

Some artists may be able to temporarily use vacant buildings as studios, to fill what are gaping holes in the streetscape.

Ineke Boekhorst, executive-director with the BIA, said it was a positive meeting with pragmatic ideas.

Many people complain about lack of parking, but a study shows there are enough spaces. So why not put up signs, directing shoppers to the free parking stalls?

And what about a sign telling speeding motorists they’re at the downtown entrance? The BIA also creates some pamphlets to tell businesses who to call when dealing with homeless people.

While the Salvation Army is in a visible location, maybe there’s a way of making it less visible or apparent.

But many cities have social services in the downtown.

“The services have to be available to the people that need these services,” she said.

“A lot of positive things came out that we can actually, simply work on.”

Members of the social planning advisory committee will share ideas with more participants then write an initial report for council’s Nov. 19 meeting.

The evening also identified five areas on which to focus: ensuring businesses are supported; improving the public perception of downtown; maintaining or increasing the number of downtown events; improving pedestrian access or safety with small improvements; recognizing that key social service agencies are in visible areas.

“The key part that came out of the evening is that everybody has to be part of the solution,” Swift said.

“If we all do that, it can be very positive.”