Wellington North’s economic development committee is considering new ways to revitalize the downtown cores of Arthur and Mount Forest.
Paul Bowers, of the Ontario Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Rural Affairs, spoke at length on the ministry’s program for downtown revitalization. The presentation was prompted by earlier economic development considerations.
Economic Development officer Linda Reader sent a memo to Wellington North council stating that the township’s economic development committee chose downtown revitalization as one of its priorities for the centres. So, she contacted the rural planning branch of OMAFRA.
The ministry’s downtown revitalization strategies are patterned after a successful program from the States known as Main Street USA that has been adopted in Middlesex County in Ontario.
Bowers was at the economic development committee meeting on April 9 to explain the methods of that approach, which includes community meetings for organization, promotion, design, economic restructuring and social issues.
Reader wrote to council, “It is hoped that from this approach not only will there be strategies in Mount Forest to mitigate the affect of the ‘dig’ but long term strategies to revitalize the downtown once the road work is completed. And of course the economic development committee in partnership with OMAFRA will also support the revitalization committee’s work already begun in Arthur.”
Bowers explained the ministry has had a number of pilot projects over the past two years, including Mapleton and Minto. However, this year, the full program is starting, he said. He said downtown revitalization is more than putting in a few benches and extra parking.
He explained the work needs to include the economic and social well-being of the community centre. The program takes a set approach dealing with economic development:
– marketing and promotion;
physical streetscape improvements; and
– organization and collaboration.
He said there are various surveys that can be used to help identify new markets and new businesses that could fit into the downtown areas.
Promotion, he said, could include bringing more people downtown with community events. One of the principles of the project is to take things one step at a time.
The objectives include:
– build collaboration within a strong and active partnership;
– reinforce the vitality and dynamics of the local economy to better fit people’s needs;
– develop social and cultural activities to create a more lively and animated commercial area; and
– enhance the built and natural environment.
– a local incremental approach, with small steps;
– focus on unique heritage assets;
– working with all local businesses and all community stakeholders;
– do downtown market analysis;
– hire a full time local coordinator;
– get municipal support and cooperation; and
– work towards having the community committed to the project for the long term.
In Quebec, over 120 communities have participated in a similar program since 1984.
Projects have involved about 1,400 volunteers a year in various community activities
The programs have resulted in 700 heritage building improvements.
Between 1997 and 2002, economic impacts attributed to these community projects include:1,200 new jobs, 360 new business, $31-million in public investment, and $98million in private investment.
Bowers noted that preliminary first year results of its pilot projects include:
– average municipal contributions, $19,096;
– average community organizer’s contribution, $4,987;
– average private sector contribution to public projects, $657; and
– average provincial and federal contribution, $17,636.
Some early results include:
– average number of downtown businesses, 41;
– average gain of new businesses, 3.5;
– average number of full-time equivalent jobs per community, 142; and
– average gain of full-time equivalent jobs, 8;
Bowers added the following web-sites are useful:
www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/rural/inddr.htm and www.mainstreetmiddlesex.ca/.
He said one important aspect is to get broad participation and having a number of community groups involved. He suggested a public meeting to help start the action plan.
Bowers described various surveys that could take place from resident and business surveys to those involving customers and why they have chosen to shop in the downtown.
Those surveys, he said, are particularly useful in identifying what businesses exist, what businesses are looking for, and to see if the number and types of businesses are consistent with the national averages.
Those averages, he said, could potentially indicate if the community could support certain businesses or even if it could support additional businesses of the same type – such as restaurants.
Conversely, he said such surveys could show if a local community is over saturated with a specific type of business.
Bowers said OMAFRA is in the process of streamlining the application process for the program – but he stressed it is a competitive process and there is limited access.
He suggested the committee has the option of doing parts of the survey, which would provide immediate results of a business mix analysis.
“Ideally it works best in conjunction with the other surveys, but it would be of use to you.”
EDC member Mary Schmidt asked who would be financing it.
She said that if the committee cannot proceed without municipal support, it needs to know how the program would fit in with the budget.
If it can go ahead this year, Schmidt said she would be very interested in seeing the surveys move forward – especially the market threshold and business analysis.
Bowers stressed that partaking in one of the surveys is not a commitment to take part in the entire program.
Committee member Al Rawlins asked if the proposal involves two studies because of the make-up of Wellington North – divided among the communities of Mount Forest and Arthur.
Bowers assumed that even though one coordinator might be hired – each community would be treated individually.
Reader asked where the funding would come from if a coordinator is hired, or if the position can be handled in-house.
Bowers suggested a grant might only be possible if a new person is hired. It is full-time, like a project manager, he said.
Reader said that the project would need to include collaboration with both chambers of commerce and Mount Forest’s BIA.
Councillor Ross Chaulk expressed his interest in the business mix study.
“It’s a damn good idea.”
EDC member Dale Small was also interested in the business mix study, but warned against moving ahead with any customer origin surveys without first notifying business owners.