The massive void left by tourists in the town of Banff has been occupied by workers clad in bright vests and hard hats and the persistent drum of heavy machinery.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have prevented the popular Alberta mountain destination from hosting guests but it didn’t stop it from sprucing up the place while people stayed home.
From hotels to major streets, a lot of spots in the town have been the site of reconstruction projects.
“Inns of Banff are under a tremendous reconstruction right now, and a lot of smaller buildings and lots of new restaurants (are) popping up,” Mayor Karen Sorensen said.
“Our message to visitors is, ‘Welcome back. We cannot wait to see you. We will be thrilled to show off this new area of Bear Street, designed largely for pedestrians.'”
Bear Street has arguably been ground zero for major projects in Banff during the pandemic. The street has been torn up for over a year now as crews upgraded underground sewer pipes and utility lines. There have been delays that have created headaches for some people living and working nearby.
“It’s been noisy and a little bit dusty,” said Nic Veriker, who is both a resident and employed on Bear Street, working as the manager of Wild Flour Bakery. “Front access and store access has been interrupted.
“We are ready for it to be done.”
Sorensen said 90,000 grey-coloured, interlocking bricks are being placed by hand. While there will be a parking lot and cars can drive down the street, it is being transformed into a pedestrian oasis of sorts, promoting outdoor dining and areas for sitting and relaxing.
“I know moving forward this is going to be a great gift to the businesses here,” Sorensen said.
In 2020, $458,000 in building and development fees were paid, exceeding others years. The Banff Hospitality Collective (BHC) has been building three restaurants since the pandemic began. Its Three Bears Brewery opened on Bear Street in November despite looming lockdowns. A Japanese restaurant and karaoke bar is set to open in July and an Italian restaurant in the fall.
“While I would say it had its moments of (being) really daunting and scary, I think ultimately, once everybody got more clarity, it’s been really exciting opening up in a world that was shutting down,” said BHC co-founder Katie Tuff.
“While we were simultaneously closing a lot of places, we always felt like we were moving forward. It gave us a lot of perspective.”
Tuff noted that the community really rallied together.
The Bear Street project comes with a price tag of $9.73 million and is set to be finished July 19.