Thursday, 17 January 2013

Time for Downtown Revitalization

The catch phrase over the last week is “POLITICAL WILL” So I want to talk about a community that has that will.

January 2013

Penticton, BC population 33,000 started it’s downtown revitalization in 2011 and they are committed to making it work. They have commitment from council, property owners, businesses and administration. Here is what they have to say about it on their website.

"Vibrant Penticton" is more than just a revitalization project: it marks our community's time to shine.
Penticton is an innovative, adventurous City that focuses on sustainability, community and economic opportunity. Penticton also has a vibrant spirit, which needs to show through in its physical downtown areas.
Following a visioning process and creation of the City's Vision Statement in 2011, Council committed to prepare a comprehensive plan for the downtown in 2012, the first step to achieving Council's strategic priority of downtown revitalization over the next three years. The Downtown Revitalization Select Committee was struck, and in the 2012 Budget, Council approved $267,000 to prepare the plan.
Now we look to the future. Downtown areas need rejuvenation to ensure the cycle of growth, investment and prosperity in the community continues. It is time for Downtown Penticton to shine.
We are embarking upon this change together. The City of Penticton is listening to its residents, businesses and stakeholders during public engagement sessions so that, at the end of 2012, we have a downtown revitalization plan that has widespread support in the community. This will ensure the next chapter in the downtown's history will serve the community for generations to come.
You see Penticton gets it. I believe Prince Albert has not.
In my first 90 days as councillor I have been challenged by the realization that the Council and City of Prince Albert administration and some property owners may not have downtown revitalization as part of it’s strategic plan and that I have observed community negativity, lack of interest and overall little appetite to move it forward.

We all know that our downtown was the historic heart of the city. We call it our core. But property owners and civic leaders of the past have not seemed interested in the challenges of it’s revitalization. We are wasting time, running quickly out of grant moneys and missing the opportunity for quick economic development. 

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 50 in the Gateway Mall for a total of 150
  • 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: 

2012 Parking Metre Revenues

Parking Meter Revenues:  $386,900
Parking Ticket Revenues:   $356,640
Gross revenue

Parking Operations Expenses:   $270,650
Loan Payment Principle:   $145,000
Gross Expense
Net Revenue to General Operations: 
Net with loan prepaid

The budgeted net revenue to operations for 2012 
Gross from budget with loan

Estimated property taxes
 Business levee at 4%

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.

When it snows malls pay contractors to remove the snow immediately and we set the downtown as a priority 3. In the last snow fall it was almost a week before it was attended to. We, the city, don’t even clean all of our own core business sidewalks on vacant or city controlled lots.

I have a feeling due to seeming lack of interest from the city, stakeholders that our downtown bid association is losing motivation and the Main Street program money is quickly running out.

So mayor, council and citizens of Prince Albert is it your WILL that we make our downtown sustainable and take advantage of this real economic opportunity that has worked in so many other communities? Do we want to make it a priority or at least add it as part of our strategic growth plan for the future? Opportunity will not wait. Like Penticton I want to say:

Prince Albert is a city that focuses on sustainability, community and economic opportunity. 
Council is it your POLITICAL WILL?


  1. What can I say? I tried real hard, advertised and advertised, played music outdoors in the summer to attract attention and more to get activity on Central and coming to my shop upon opening TaDa at the north end of Central. Those who came into my shop usually loved it, but there was simply not enough people who were willing to make the effort to look other than during the street festival days. People do not walk and browse these days. They may go to one long established shop or an office, park near it and then get back in their car and drive away from the area. Many downtown office workers go direct to their cars, too, at lunch or after work and leave the downtown (including city hall workers). How many from city hall visited my new shop? The attitude towards the downtown which some people in PA retain is so negative, too! Many perceive it to be a rough place to go which it is not any more than anywhere else. The few trouble makers on occasion would not even be noticed if there were any other people on the street! I venture to say WalMart is rougher! As much as there is one street festival in the spring, the lovely band stand and park area on River Street are never with activity in the summer. I suggest that there could be something going on there every weekend and a fun place for people to go. I hope things will change in the downtown. I put in a lot of effort myself, but it will be too late in any case for me and the venture I tried to get going. People perhaps are too busy to be bothered and the big box store with all the family needs in one place or nearby in another big box which is open all hours of the day and night has become the quick convenience even if a smaller independent shop owner can offer nicer and more unique items just as affordable. Life styles and attitudes of today seem such that people don't have time or care enough about interesting, leisurely and more relaxed shopping. Rushing to Cornerstone most of the time and then escaping on days off to Saskatoon is most common. The city needs to make known all that is in PA and curb the need to run to Saskatoon for things that are here. --- I hope PA does not miss the boat and loose more businesses in the downtown, but I won't be surprised if it does the way things are going right now. What will become of the old downtown? Will it become a boarded up ghost town or a beautiful trendy area with residences (perhaps some loft living),day eateries,shops, offices, evening after concert lounges and dining etc. The street could be full of buskers in the summer, winter outdoor canned music and lights, the band stand and beautiful river park operative and a fun place to go. It is up to the people of PA as well as city planning and city assistance. The city will need to promote the area more as people are lazy often to take any initiative to try something new or even look for anything new, not to mention to go where they have to walk. Fitness by walking downtown could be encouraged, too. This could be fun and much more interesting than walking in circles in a building! The parking meter cards have not been promoted well enough and people don't even seem to know about them or don't want to buy them because "they seldom come downtown". I have heard all the excuses this past year to say the least! So, again, what can I say except that I tried. Hoping for the best for PA's lovely traditional old downtown area in the years ahead. ---- Grace Dansereau

  2. Grace YOU GET IT! That is exactly what our downtown needs to grow to. A happening place, a meeting place, a family place. How do we do it? With the city providing an environment where business owners, like yourself can build their dreams. Like you said we need events and an environment that encourages traffic. What we need are the building owners to step up and invest in their buildings and provide you the entrepreneurs an environment to thrive. Once our downtown figures out a theme and convince the community that we are serious will we start to grown our downtown into what it can be. The future is about businesses like yours. It is up to the downtown merchants to create demand for people to shop downtown. I hope your business can survive until we get our collective act together. Hang in there if you can we need your ideas and enthusiasm.