Downtown Revitalization Conference

Downtown Revitalization Conference

This week there was a one day event organized by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association and facilitated by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. It was called “Telling Your Story – Communicating Your Downtown Revitalization” and it was part of the Downtown Revitalization Community of Practice series. There have been three other events of this type around Ontario and this fourth event was held in Kemptville with Old Town Kemptville BIA being the host.

Kay Matthews of the OBIAA started off by talking a little about her organization and included a few initiatives that they are working on with the PEARL committee (which includes several provincial deputy ministers). They are working on things like removing the provincial vacant unit rebate program which was used to help property owners (who couldn’t find commercial tenants) get through difficult financial times. Instead, the program has in some cases turned into a kind of corporate welfare that rewards wealthy absentee property owners who aren’t seriously pursuing opportunities to fill their spaces. Other projects that OBIAA is working on are: creating a rural downtown icon that can be shared across the province and a Tourism Or Destination Signage (TODS) program that can be used by any BIA on provincial highway signage.

OMAFRA in their presentation to participants outlined a four stage process for downtown revitalization including: 1) Preparation – which involved team building, meeting with key stakeholders, gathering background information etc. 2) Data Collection – creating business and building inventories, doing surveys, doing market area data reports and current business mix analysis. 3) Develop Goals and Action Plans – analyzing data collected, establishing issues and goals, formulating detailed action plans and then turning your action plan into a strategic plan. 4) Implement and Monitor – communicate results to stakeholders, track progress, and celebrate victories.

Rob Hunter, the Economic Development Officer for the municipality of North Dundas was one of the presenters. Rob’s presentation was about creating a retail recruitment strategy for downtown areas. Being the former executive director of the Downtown Brockville BIA, he used Brockville as his case study. Rob talked about ideas like creating a Retail Recruitment Advisory Team consisting of: commercial real estate agents, business owners, chamber of commerce members, BIA members and other key stakeholders. He also talked about creating a list of target businesses from a business needs analysis and matching them with current commercial spaces. One of his key messages to BIAs was determining whether or not their communities had sufficient market potential to support certain kinds of businesses. The tool he used was a Demand Threshold Analysis for Brockville which showed an inventory of current businesses and whether there was a need for more business of a certain type or whether the area was over exposed to that type of business. Numbers for the rest of the province were used as a baseline to calculate the figures used.

The chair of the Old Town Kemptville BIA Paul Cormier, did a presentation to the group of thirty or so on the current state of OTK, its challenges, its progress, and the future. Paul also highlighted the key contributions of stakeholders and shined light on some of the unique businesses of OTK. This presentation was an excellent prelude to the personally guided tour of OTK conducted by OTK BIA co-ordinator Martia Cicalo at the end of the day. The tour allowed participants to experience first hand OTK and to appreciate the history, the businesses and the people that make OTK such an original experience. Many participants said that the tour was the high point of the conference and inspired them to review the historical significance of their own BIA and how they could leverage their own past to help create a brighter future.

The OTK BIA understands the important role that heritage can play in revitalizing a downtown area. Watch for more details coming soon about their plan to use “Heritage as Driving Force for Old Town Kemptville in Downtown Revitalization”.

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