Architects lend advice on revitalizing downtown Trail

Preserving the old bridge, the most valuable heritage asset in Trail, should be a priority

The Trail and District Chamber of Commerce president was intrigued by a pair of visiting architects who painted a colourful vision of Trail’s future landscape, just in time for Heritage Week.

Architects Thomasz Sztuk and Raphael Neurohr live in Calgary and are partners in DAAS Design and Architecture Studio. The partners met with Trail chamber president Doug Jones after visiting the Silver City last fall, and talked to the Times this week.

Sztuk is originally from Krakow, Poland, while Neurohr is from Salzburg, Austria — both mountainous communities reminiscent of the West Kootenay region.

“We typically just toured around because we were under the spell of the beautiful surroundings and the history,” said Sztuk, who also teaches city planning at the University of Calgary.

“What you have here is history and context, you have a natural landscape and you have a man-made landscape,” Neurohr added. “For example it [Trail] was very reminiscent of Europe. Here it is mountainous streets that reminded me of Tyrol in Italy, there’s only so much available land and you have to use what you have.”

The architects admired the stonework of Greater Trail masons, were impressed by the numerous covered staircases ascending West Trail, and the beauty of the landscape surrounding Teck operations.

Visiting architects advise that conserving and showcasing Trail’s rich heritage and historic buildings and structures should be a priority. Photo: Jim Bailey

Visiting architects advise that conserving and showcasing Trail’s rich heritage and historic buildings and structures should be a priority. Photo: Jim Bailey

The Italian heritage was evident in West Trail and Sztuk immediately referred to it as ‘Little Italy’ while visiting. He stressed that the character of a town lies in its history, and incorporating the old with the new should be a priority.

The architects insisted that bringing the Old Trail Bridge back to life was vital as it is the oldest heritage site in the city.

They recommended several uses for a restored pedestrian bridge including outdoor markets, events, festivals and a potential tourist attraction.

In addition, they recommended the city try to restore historic buildings and heritage assets like the already-lost Union Hotel building, rather than tear them down.

European cities treasure their heritage sites and remediate and renovate rigorously in an effort to preserve their history. In North America, however, there is a tendency to remove old buildings/structures and replace them with new.

“We say that buildings are places that have human memory because you can see the layering of history,” said Sztuk.

The downtown core is ripe for change and empty lots should be eradicated through development of multi-unit dwellings with room for small incubator-type businesses on the ground floor.

By compartmentalizing the large stores that are currently empty, Trail could attract boutique style offerings, high-tech incubators and small bistros and cafes that would create more traffic and living density downtown.

“A lesson to be learned is from Nelson and I think Rossland also,” said Neurohr. “There is high-tech industry that is leaving Vancouver and Victoria and going into smaller towns. What we’re seeing now is people don’t need big retail spaces or office spaces.”

Some Trail businesses have already started this trend, such as the Royal Theatre and Austin Engineering, but it will take time, acute planning and foresight for Trail to realize its potential.

“You have this incredible industrial heritage, and we were enchanted by all the historic buildings in various stages of decay,” said Neurohr. “And we heard that some buildings get torn down, which we think are really valuable to the history of the place. And you have the oldest bridge going over the Columbia River, and it’s not used, for us this is a problem,” he added.

“Trail is a town filled with opportunity.”

Heritage Week runs from Feb. 15-21.

Read: Kootenay businesses respond to COVID impact survey

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