British Columbia

Can downtown Abbotsford become the next Fort Langley?

Abbotsford’s mayor says the old downtown of his city has the potential to rival Fort Langley as one of the premier destinations in the region.

Mayor Henry Braun believes Abbotsford's downtown can become the Fraser Valley's premier destination

Abbotsford's mayor has big plans for his city's historic downtown core. (Tourism Abbotsford)

Abbotsford's mayor says the old downtown of his city has the potential to rival Fort Langley as one of the premier destinations in the region.

The area has had quite a resurgence in recent years, going from a forgotten corner of Abbotsford to a thriving neighbourhood with new shops and restaurants.

"It has definitely changed," said Debbie Schiller, who co-owns Nerd Haven Games.

"More of the little shops are starting to come in and it's becoming more of a social street to actually walk up and down."

The comeback started when the area was rebranded as 'Historic Downtown Abbotsford' and new businesses were attracted by low rents and the community's retro vibe.

"A lot of those buildings, 20 years ago, some people said they should just bulldoze them and start over," said Mayor Henry Braun.

"I'm glad that didn't happen."

Now Braun wants to take the historic downtown to the next level with the city's new community plan.

In order to do that, Braun says he has to overcome one major problem: no one lives there.

Building a neighbourhood

Braun says many young entrepreneurs who grew up in Abbotsford, moved to Vancouver and now are returning home to open businesses downtown.

He says they don't have many housing options near their stores but that's about to change.

"You're going to see four, five or six blocks redeveloped in pretty short order, I think," he said.

"In five years, I think, you're going to be amazed at the transformation."

Braun envisions a series of low-rise apartment buildings and townhouses being built.

He also pictures a more walkable community with wider, tree-lined sidewalks and plenty of patios on the street.

"They wants us to create a city that feels like some other parts of the world that we pay thousands of dollars to visit and say, what a nice city," he said.

"Well, why can't we have that same city here? I think we can do that."

Nerd Haven Games co-owner Debbie Schiller says the area has gone through quite a turnaround since she opened her store three years ago. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

What about parking?

The city is looking for feedback from businesses and people who frequent the area as it develops its community plan.

Many business owners in the area say their biggest concern is a lack of parking.

"I think the parking situation leaves a lot to be desired," said Janelle Zandl who works at Precious Kargo Baby Boutique.

"They can try to make sure there's enough parking for all the businesses and in the alleys. Some businesses are taking up other peoples' parking spots," said Dan Kelly who owns Euphoria Paradise.

Braun says the problem isn't as bad as many people seem to think.

"When they hear you talking about maybe narrowing some streets and widening sidewalks so that all these little shops can have tables and chairs outside, that makes some people nervous," he said.

"We've done quite an extensive study. Yes, parking can be an issue in certain locations but there is vacant space in many other parcels."