COLUMN: Are food trucks or a lakeside restaurant in the cards for Mill Lake Park?

From coffee kiosks to lemonade stands, options abound for food & drink service at park

Mill Lake Park is a jewel with three playgrounds, a pool, a spray park, a boardwalk, and lawn bowling and horseshoes facilities. And yet, it says something about the sheer quality of the space to even suggest that it might be underdeveloped or not serving the public to its full potential.

Opinions abound about how to make the park even better.

Last week, for example, it was revealed that two good-hearted people who live near Mill Lake want to give the city money to be used towards capital improvements at the park. That story prompted a number of ideas on our Facebook page. One in particular caught my eyes – and those of many others.

Jade Jennifer Dahl Roy suggested the park could use a waterfront restaurant.

“We have no beautiful patio dining with a view here in Abby,” she wrote.

And while some might point out that several local restaurants do have stunning mountain views, she is right in that the culinary options for the thousands of people who use the lake are currently close to nil.

One can walk to nearby Sevenoaks Shopping Centre and a handful of other nearby restaurants, but getting even a coffee to go with your walk is a pain.

I go for a lunchtime walk around the lake probably once or twice a week, and have frequently thought about how nice it would be to be able to grab a small bite or a drink and sit on a bench.

Again, you can currently do that, but it’s not exactly convenient.

The city is aware that Mill Lake has even more to offer. The long-term plan for the city centre area on either side of South Fraser Way envisions a large plaza between Mill Lake and a redeveloped Sevenoaks Shopping Centre and the waterfront.

In 2021, the city will start work on a new master plan for just Mill Lake Park likely to detail a decades-long vision for the site.

One imagines that some sort of in-park food area could be on the table. (You can look to plans for a Jubilee Park-facing café at the renovated Centennial Library as evidence that staff aren’t blind to the potential of parkside food.)

The city centre neighbourhood plan (it was pointed out to me after this column went to press), also includes a possible future road extension of Bourquin Crescent through what is now a townhouse complex on the east side of the lake. Extending that road would facilitate the building of waterfront restaurants.

But that master plan will take years to come to fruition, as would any extended road through what is now private property. Building good things do take time. I asked Mayor Henry Braun about the lakeside-restaurant concept, and he noted that acting without due care could lead to regrets when it comes time to create a cohesive plan for the park.

You also have the fact that the city still wants to buy up a handful more properties around the lake to complete the park. How might the acquisition of those properties influence the placement of a coffee shop or restaurant?

But just because the city shouldn’t act rashly, doesn’t quite mean that it doesn’t have to do anything at all.

In the United States, there are tiny drive-through kiosks that sell coffee along many roads. Could something like that work? What about food trucks? (This column, like Facebook, is really just an excuse to throw spaghetti on the wall and see what sticks.)

Everybody, it seems, has an idea for making their favourite public spaces even better. And many sound terrific.

Braun said he heard an idea for a water-based platform/stage that could host concerts right on the surface of Mill Lake. And Braun said he has thought about how Abbotsford could better use its frontage on the Fraser River.

The public’s enthusiasm for improving Mill Lake Park is not inconsequential; Braun noted that the city takes that passion into consideration when it decides how quickly it should pursue different issues and plans.

“That will all go into the hopper,” he says.

Good ideas abound. Time and money do not. (Neither does parking.) And while many of these concepts seem like good business bets, there’s also the hazard of converting significant chunks of prime parkland to be used only by people who can regularly afford to spend $100 on a dinner.

Life is complicated, and so are parks. Handing out a contract to run a Mill Lake coffee stand/money-generator would be a delicate operation. So let’s start simple: If you’re under 10, you can set up a lemonade stand near the playground in summer. Kids: start your ice-makers.

Tyler Olsen is a reporter at The Abbotsford News.

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