SPEECH TO 2013 BIA ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

By MAYOR WENDY LE BLANC JANUARY 24, 2013 Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen: It’s always good to be able to speak with you at the BIA Annual meeting and this is the third time I have been here wearing my Mayor’s hat.  We on Council have just passed the halfway mark in this term in office and recently I delivered the Annual Review of 2012 to Council noting the accomplishments of the past year and looking forward into 2013 and beyond. One accomplishment that we are proud of was the hiring of Jasmin Ralph and I  congratulate her on fitting in well to the Carleton Place Economic  Development scene and being able to work with Council and Staff and our BIA and Chamber partners as we move the community forward. Now, I’d like to also welcome the new members of the BIA who are here this evening.   Those of us who have been on Council or are long-time members of the BIA are aware of Council’s continuing investment in our downtown and support of the BIA, and I believe it is important for those of you here this evening who may not be aware of this investment just what it entails. The Town provides the actual office space and staff support for book-keeping for the BIA free of charge; there is priority snow-removal for downtown and priority garbage and blue box pick-up, daily street-cleaning and emptying of litter containers, watering and maintenance of floral arrangements, paying for and maintaining floral areas including the Canadian Tire Gas Bar bed, those flanking the parking lots on Bridge Street, at the Town Hall, and others, financing two-thirds the façade improvement program, and  providing free off-street parking.  As well, the BIA benefits from Community Enrichment grants to assist with parades and events. Additionally, in the past year alone, the Town revitalized the Beckwith and Lake Avenue corner with the Market Square and reconstructed Beckwith Street, funded the spectacular Captain A. Roy Brown mural, established a Downtown Initiatives Sub-committee and engaged the consulting firm Doyletech to produce the Downtown Corridor Study presented to the Community Development Committee last January. We acquired the Carambeck Community Centre from the Upper Canada District school Board. And, as well as building, we demolished several prominent eyesores. This year we hope to complete the roof of the pavilion at Market Square; this will give even more impetus to it as a community gathering spot.  Additionally, at the opposite end of Beckwith Street, the former youth centre building has been torn down to provide access to the dam; this summer we will be creating another community gathering spot bordering the river and featuring benches, planters, games tables, and public restrooms, all under colourful sails which will provide shade on hot summer days.  We are optimistic that the property at the north end of Market Square will be sold to a developer who will create a commercial complex topped with apartments as we know that residents in the downtown core make it viable and vibrant. The expanding programs of Carambeck Community Centre will bring increased traffic – literally – to the downtown, and I expect that there will be increased traffic in the shops and restaurants as a result.  The primary goal of Council in creating and funding these projects reflects the goals of the BIA in attracting people to this wonderful area of town. While this support comes generally with no strings attached, it comes as a tangible recognition of the BIA’s investment in our heritage commercial downtown.  The BIA promotes the entire town in its advertising campaigns, it draws residents and tourists alike to the area through its outstanding festivals such as Lambsdowne, Bridge Street Bazaar, Maskeraide Parade, and Santa Claus parade, and its beautification activities including pitch-In week, the floral displays and winterlights program. The BIA supports many community organizations through its partnerships with such groups as Carleton Place in Bloom, the Sister City Committee, the Food Bank, the Farmers’ Market, and Arts Carleton Place to name just a few, and is now the go-to site for up-to-date information about community-wide events. In other words, the two organizations, the Town and the BIA, have worked together in partnership for long time and I know that it will continue to grow. On a serious note, I would like to set the stage to open a dialogue between the BIA and members of Council on a matter that I feel has the potential for unintended consequences for the viability of our downtown.  Some time ago, the Town purchased property on Hooper Street and designated it as Employment Lands; in order to make it attractive to industry, the price was set at $110 000 per acre. Now, the goal in hiring an Economic Development Co-ordinator was to encourage more employment-generating businesses in the community; this move was strongly supported by the BIA, Chamber of Commerce, and the general public.  Several months ago a developer approached Council members with a plan to build residential units and a combination of commercial below and residential above units on this property; part of the development also included a form of seniors’ building and a large retail store.  Most members of Council, Staff and consultants from MacIntosh/Perry view this type of development as being detrimental to the downtown, and also note that it would leave the Town with no publicly-owned Employment lands available; it was also clearly pointed out that $110 000 per acre for residential land would be underselling private property owners. Ladies and gentlemen, there are several parcels of land in the downtown core that could well accommodate this type of development – for example, the Market Square, The old Findlay foundry property, the corner of Lansdowne and Arthur, and the old Lolly’s property as it is known at the north-west end of the Bridge.  Development of this type on these locations would bring desirable residential units in the downtown core and contribute to more commercial enterprises.  Indeed there are many other parcels of land throughout the town that I have identified as being capable of supporting this type of development with the result that the Town retains its much-needed Employment lands; however, that said, I am still concerned about the effect on the downtown core and the Downtown Revitalization Plan with this type of development outside of the downtown area.  This evening is not an appropriate time for detailed or lengthy discussion on this matter; however, I feel strongly that members of the BIA need to be aware of the potential issues involved in such a development both inside the downtown core, outside of it, and more particularly on designated employment lands. Now, I would like to switch gears for a moment and speak with you about the possibility of the BIA being involved with a Pilot Project from Valley Heartland.  A couple of months ago, I had just finished lunch with my brother at the Eating Place, and popped in next door to chat with Erika Zwicker of the Floral Boutique; as I still had plenty of time before I was due back at the Town Hall, I went next door to Michelle’s Surrounding Memories, then crossed the street to Janice and Gail at Wisteria, continued my walk then over to Chantal Gervais’ Sunshine Then and Now, and finished up at Krista Lee’s Applecheeks.  Later in the afternoon I was reflecting on my visits and it suddenly struck me like the proverbial ton of bricks – that these businesses were all run by women entrepreneurs!  It didn’t take much time for me to realize that a very large percentage of our BIA’s businesses are owned and run by women – and many of them young women.  I followed up with Cathie who became equally excited and she printed off a list of stores and services and their owners – considerably more than half of the businesses are owned and operated by female entrepreneurs.  I felt strongly that somehow this fact needed to be made public, needed to be recognized and needed to be built upon. So Cathie and I spent some time discussing some possible ways to acknowledge these women. Early in the New Year, I called Susan Fournier Executive Director of Valley Heartland to speak with her about existing Valley Heartland programs that could support them.  Within 48 hours of my call, Susan, Jasmin Ralph, Cathie McOrmond and I were sitting down talking over how we can assist these entrepreneurs, draw attention to their presence in our downtown, and make it work for the benefit of both the BIA and the women.  Interestingly, the timing could not have been better as Susan had determined her three areas of focus in the next fiscal year starting in April, and one of them just happened to be creating a program to support female entrepreneurs. In speaking with her yesterday, Susan said that at a Community Economic Development meeting held this week, it was decided that the program will feature access to capital and workshops tailored to the needs of women and more.  Stay tuned! And finally, I would like to share a few of the many worthwhile insights into the rejuvenation of downtowns that can be found in the Portas Review.  This British report on that county’s High Streets was drawn to our attention at this meeting last year by Alex Beveridge. It is an exceptional read that accomplished two things for me – it showed me that we are on the right track in many instances and it pointed to the direction we still need to go.  Let me end with a few quotations – I have substituted the words Downtown for High Streets.: Downtown … must be a hub of the community that local people are proud of and want to protect … and must offer irresistible opportunities and experiences that do not exist elsewhere. Markets are a fantastic way to bring a town to life. … people coming together to buy, to sell, to meet, to share, to discover and enjoy each other’s company. It is the oldest type of commerce. All landlords should be long-term investors in communities, never just extractors of value.  Dog-eared and down-at-heels buildings …blight the character of our downtown cores. Where [shopkeepers] can compete [with box stores] and need to focus their efforts is in three core areas: Experience, Service, and Specializing. For a downtown to survive and grow it must have a very clear vision of where it wants to get to. And it needs co-ordinated planning and management to get there. Thank you to all of you who have a vision that is part of the common vision of our community to have a vibrant, thriving downtown core, to those of you who are working towards making the dream a reality by making the right moves both individually and collectively, and most important to the members of the public and the business community who continue to support the concept of a downtown core by actually going to shop and eat there regularly.  As Mark Sutcliffe, author of an article on the Sparks Street Mall stated in The Ottawa Citizen a week ago, ‘it’s worth [a] shot at bringing more life to downtown.  There are already encouraging signs of progress.’