Downtown Revitalization

Wendy’s Views on Downtown Revitalization The main business area is the economic and cultural centre of any town, and ours is no exception. We have a lively downtown area steeped in history that we can all be proud of. We should all be appreciative of our downtown entrepreneurs that contribute to its vitality. To a large extent, this is what gives Carleton Place the small town look and intangibles that we all cherish. It is important, however, that we do not stand still. We must continue to work and be visionary and innovative to ensure that our small town heart continues far into the future benefitting future generations of Carleton Place residents. Competition from merchants and businesses in Ottawa and McNeely Avenue are a fact of life—this is economic progress that we cannot stop even if we wanted to. We need to accept this reality and learn how to adapt and learn from these forces to the betterment of the businesses in our downtown core. During my next four years, I want the Council, town staff and the BIA, and its individual members, to take a detailed look at the role that our Development Permit Bylaw can play in stimulating a vibrant mix of downtown businesses. We need to study other municipalities that have had success with the use of zoning to foster a vibrant main street. We need to learn, adapt, and implement made-in-Carleton Place initiatives. I point to the example of Richmond Road in Ottawa, which, over a number of years, successfully used zoning as a key impetus to fostering a vibrant economic and cultural neighbourhood. We need to take a detailed and hard look at the mix of businesses in our downtown core. Will they, over time, contribute to the vibrancy of our downtown core or does the mix need to be changed and how do we effect that change? For example, do we need a men’s clothing store, an outdoor sports store , an upscale antique store , fewer vacant storefronts, and less fast-food outlets ? We may ask what kinds of businesses could be located on the second floors of our main street businesses, at the rear of the ground floor or even on Beckwith Street, thereby freeing up street-level locations for businesses that would be more attractive to walk-by traffic for locals and visitors from out of town. I want to work with the BIA, Council and Town staff to revisit the various small business counselling and assistance programs that we have implemented over the past four years that are freely available to our existing businesses and start-ups. Is there more that can be done to encourage the uptake of these services? Are there gaps in the available training and counselling that we need to fill? I want to work with the BIA and other relevant parties to determine if there are other initiatives that we can implement in our downtown business area that will offset the obvious competition that comes from the larger retail outlets in the area; a small town in southwestern Ontario has created an innovative grant system to encourage new businesses. We need to look closely how our businesses in the core can compete more effectively with the local box stores and do something about that. For example, offer different products and services, different hours or play up personalized friendlier service at independently owned businesses. One of my ideas is for a group of BIA members to look at the possibility of joint advertising to other markets (e.g.: Ottawa and surrounding towns). For example, what about a pilot project to market the five independently-owned women’s clothing stores as well as the consignment shops that we have in Carleton Place as a joint destination and a mecca for women’s clothing? Maybe these purchases could be combined with BIA bucks to spend in other stores, our restaurants or for a portable lunch to eat on our riverfront or in the garden at the Victoria museum. What would it cost, as an experiment, to pay for a bus to pick up shoppers in Ottawa (at a seniors residence?) and bring them back and forth to Carleton Place for a day shopping trip? Over the next four years, I want to work with the BIA and our businesses on ways of beautifying and improving our streetscape. The Mitten Art Project and Christmas lights in the winter to the trees and flowers in the summer all contribute to the beauty and character of our downtown core and make it a more inviting place to be. In addition, we need to be proactive in upgrading and restoring our downtown heritage architecture and look at funding options such as the availability of government grants in addition to our current façade improvement program. Neighbouring communities are revisiting the possibility of Heritage Conservation Districts; is it time for us to look at that possibility again? Our Economic Development officer will redouble her efforts to entice new businesses to locate in our downtown core and to encourage them to make use of our business counselling and development programs. Over my next four years, I want our Town staff and the BIA and its members to look at other municipalities that have had success in creating year-long events marketing programs that encourage visitors and customers to their downtown areas on a year round basis . My suggestion of resurrecting the Mississippi River Days as an umbrella marketing strategy for all our special downtown events is an example of this type of initiative. We need to learn what initiatives we can borrow, adapt or copy, and implement from other small towns. This is a critical time for our downtown and there is considerable excitement and potential for its future as the economic, historical and cultural centre of our town. It, more than any other feature, gives Carleton Place the small town feel that contributes immeasurably to our Town character and well-being of all its citizens. Idleness and complacency on the part of our citizens is not an option. We all have a duty, as citizens, to support our down town. Over the next few years a lot of hard work, visionary ideas, and concrete action will be necessary to preserve and grow what we have in our downtown core. We will need to be future-looking to set aside sufficient resources to accomplish the tasks and over the next four years, I intend to devote my utmost efforts to ensuring that this happens in an effective, responsible, and sustainable manner.