Address to the AGM of the Carleton Place B.I.A.


January 23, 2014

January is absolutely the right time of year to hold an AGM as the events of the past year and the optimism of a new year are still fresh in everyone’s mind. You know, working towards creating a vibrant downtown was one of my election campaign promises; in fact, looking over the literature from the past election, there were a number of current Council members with the same vision, as well as, of course, the members of the BIA and its executive.  And now, here we are three years and a lot of dedicated work on the part of many people later, and I’d say we’re well on our way. One of the significant changes that has occurred in the past three years is the increase in the profile of the BIA in the community.  This is, of course, difficult to measure and I can’t give you any statistics to verify that statement.  But, the busy-ness of the downtown core, the activity that takes place there, the growth in new businesses, the buzz about restaurants, ladies clothing shops, consignment shops, boutiques and more all point to a revitalizing downtown. Indeed, the number of new businesses in the downtown has grown at an amazing rate in the past few months and Cathie McOrmond reported to me recently that the occupancy rate is the highest in at least a decade.  This is sure sign – a measuring stick, a benchmark - that business people have faith in the current business climate and, more importantly, in the potential of this area of town. How did this change come about?  What road did we follow to arrive at an increasingly robust downtown.  Let’s have a look at the path I think was followed:
  1. Certainly, there’s the snowball effect; one business choosing to start-up or relocate encourages others to do the same.  Clusters of attractive shops not only attract customers, but they attract other business people, too. Another snowball effect that we are seeing is the increasing numbers of businesses open Sundays, Mondays, and certain evenings as well. Here’s my favourite cluster of shops … and supporting them is Grahams, Dacks, Wisteria, Brushstrokes for accessories of all kinds.
  2. The great selection of restaurants meets the needs of families, young and older adults, ladies who shop, all tastes and budgets.
  3. The community events sponsored by the BIA or in partnership with other community groups are well known across the area.
  4. Community gathering places are important to the vibrancy of any downtown.  I am particularly proud of the Market Square and the majority of Council who supported this venture; the vision for this important development came from a number of community-minded citizens and members of Council.  The outstanding support of the BIA made it happen.  Congratulations.   And, I am pleased to report to the members of the BIA, that Council has now sold the property adjacent to the Market Square to Parkview Homes (vis.: Cinnamon Suites Condos), a quality builder who paid full asking price and requested no concessions from the Town.  It’s often tempting to jump at the first offer, but I am glad that Council held firm on this piece of property.  The new development will see ground floor commercial and residential on the upper floors, echoing the standards of the main street. At the opposite end of Beckwith Street is the lovely little park filling the space occupied by the old firehall/youth centre building, to be completed this spring.
  5. Beautification – The partnership between the BIA, the Town and Carleton Place in Bloom has given the community the exceptionally attractive beautification projects – virtually year-round - that enhance the streetscapes and are a draw to the downtown. Attractive window displays add to the beautification efforts.
  6. Customer service – I’ve spoken about this before, our downtown offers service that can’t be beat by franchises.  Our independent business owners downtown go out of their way to provide exceptional personal service.
  7. People living in the downtown core – With two new projects on the horizon and one being completed and apartments above shops being renovated, more renters are considering the downtown as home base.
  8. Partnerships – BIA has formed strong partnerships with many groups in the community and we all know the mantra that together we’re better.
  9. BIA willing to try new events, new promotions, new vision
  10. Celebration of the heritage aspect – The façade improvement program, the walking tour, the heritage scan tour, the Roy Brown Museum, the Museum’s annual featured storefront…
  11. Cathie’s List of events
  12. BIA’s Active voice on Tourism, downtown initiatives, community development committee, etc.  Here’s a slide showing a day in the life of your BIA manager!
Is there a straight line connection between the success of the downtown and these 12  factors?   I think so. In his book about Creative Communities, Gord Hume points to the Four Themes of Successful Downtowns: arts, heritage and culture; food and fun; business and commerce; and residents.  I’d say we’re well on our way with the first three and are definitely moving forward with the fourth. And, if I were to condense the driving forces behind these 12 characteristics into three words, they would be: Vision, Passion, Leadership.  I congratulate the business owners, the BIA board led by Paul Sorfleet, Cathie McOrmond, your manager, and Gary Strike our council representative, for their strong showing in each of these areas. So, what’s next?  No doubt the BIA has many directions in which it can spend its time and money, but for me I will be working to promote the downtown experience every chance I get both to locals and daytrippers and tourists, continuing work on the acquisition of the railway as part of the Rails to Trails plan envisioned by Lanark County and its partners.  I plan to encourage more building owners to access funds for heritage façade improvements.  And, I am going to be much more aggressive in working to clean up the remaining derelict buildings – we do have a property standards bylaw.  And finally, I would like to see a reworking of the walking tour as part of a larger plan to enhance various forms of tourism in the downtown. Ladies and Gentlemen, we all know that a positive attitude can make a big difference.  In the time that I have been on Council I can truly say that the optimism as well as the hard work of your manager and the Board has truly made a difference.   And indeed, members of Council who are dedicated to a project can also make a big difference.  I don’t need to tell you that this is an election year and your support will be solicited from most if not all candidates.  First, I’d like to remind all members of the BIA that they can vote in the municipal election – whether you own your own building or rent, you are still paying taxes here, and that gives you the right to be on the voters’ lists: I am going to request that Cathie makes this information available as we get closer to the election.  And second, you know which candidates to support – they are the ones who shop downtown, attend BIA events, and are supporters of the BIA around the Council table. Now, finally, you know, ladies and gentlemen, I was questioned following a speech I made last year about the number of Grand Openings in our community; the premise of the question was that for every grand opening there was a Grand Closing that preceded it.  So I got to thinking about this and asked Jennifer Irwin at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum to pull out some pictures of a building in the downtown that has undergone many changes over its 100 years. And I’d like to end with this little history lesson, to show how just one building has evolved over time and has continued over more than a century to be a vital part of the downtown business community.
  • 11 vintage SLIDES of 77 Bridge Street
There have been many openings and closings in this building, but I think you will agree, it has had, just like our heritage downtown, a rich history, is currently a solid and attractive, exciting, presence in our community, and has a promising future. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the opportunity to speak with you once again this evening.  I am proud and pleased that the efforts of the BIA have been supported, applauded, and attended by the majority of this Council, and I see a strong future as we continue as partners along the Road to a Robust Downtown.