Friday, 26 July 2013

Downtown an opportunity not to miss

I talk about the reality of economic development and keep pointing out that the downtown is a totally under utilized economic resource. It should be an economic incubator as our city has invested in development, infrastructure including waste and storm sewer, water, asphalt, curbs and sidewalks, lighting over the last 113 years. It does not require rezoning or any further city investment. Downtown just needs developers to see the advantage to updating their buildings and attract businesses willing to looking at the opportunities presented in our historic downtown. Merchants then must be willing to make our downtown a dynamic and vibrant place to explore and shop and find entertainment during the hours from 4pm till 8 or 9pm when people are wanting to get out and shop and look for something to do.

Here are the facts:

We have 3000 people working in the downtown core - our communities largest employer

We have 306 separate businesses or offices in the core

100 merchants plus 65 in the Gateway Mall for a total of 165
61 Professional offices
95 Non profits, schools, clubs, churches and media
We bring in 1.5 million in taxes with little return to the district.
4% of all downtown business taxes are imposed as an improvement district levee
Many downtown businesses want us to use some parking surpluses to support renewal, since it is money realized from proceeds of customers using downtown services:
Parking revenues for 2012 grossed $744K We have a gross profit after paying for the new parking meters of $328K. Once the meters are paid we would have $473K returned to general revenue. Our 2012 budget called for net of $251K and we realized $77K more. I say we should start by looking at providing that amount to the revitalization planning.

Corner Stone has 30 stores and they pay taxes on the square footage of the stores not the parking lot.  In comparison 306 offices pay taxes or servicing agreements and the customers or clients must pay for parking. So think about it. The downtown business district pays 1.5 million in taxes and we impose parking meters and return the revenues to general revenue not to the revitalization. Then we ask the businesses for a levee of 4% and that is all we give back to them in investment.

In the past year council has decided to cut budgets for year round bylaw enforcement, street sweeping and many other items such as street beautification and sidewalk repairs.

On the positive front we need to congratulations to the hard working people investing time and energy working on the Downtown Association, Main Street Program, Community Futures, PA Chamber and the PA Tourism and Convention Association, Museum and Heritage organizations and many others. Please keep up the good work. Hopefully we on council will get the message. To our old and new businesses that have stuck it out and invested hard dollars to build a downtown business I for one feel your payback is coming.

Here are a few of the things I have heard people talk about and say what we need to get started at right away.

A brand (developed by the community players PLEASE NOT GATEWAY TO THE NORTH - that is where people leave from not stay and enjoy) The one I have heard most is “Meeting Place” from the Cree words - Sakitawak  or Kestapin - recommended by past committees but not supported by past political will.
More family destination attractions (festivals, markets, family park, attract new enterprise)
Action by property owners and developers to fixing and renovating their properties so they are more interesting for investment and rental (some communities make it expensive for owners to leave their property vacant or in poor repair.)
Business entrepreneurs to see the potential and be innovator of new ideas stay open like Cornerstone so people can come down and enjoy shopping and services in the evening (think when you go on holidays - do you stay in your hotel room at 5pm or go out and enjoy the amenities of the place you are visiting?)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
City council to get on side by providing bylaws, environment and services to support the investment and  people enjoying our downtown. (Yes including full time bylaw and police patrols). Invest in making our downtown a place where entrepreneurs want to invest and thrive.
Build pride in our historic downtown and make it a vibrant part of our economic region and ask senior governments to buy in and assist.

It is so close. All we need is the will to put all the pieces together. Just look at Moose Jaw's success. City council, it will not cost us one extra penny but make us tons of money when the downtown renewal starts and succeeds. We all win.