Downtown business owners band together to shape future of city core
There’s fresh excitement brewing and a movement afoot in our city’s downtown core, as businesses and non-profits alike connect with the city in the hope of furthering their growth and sustainability goals. This, after a small steering committee met with city council’s Cultural and Civic Pride Committee on March 11 to gauge city interest in such a partnership.
“It’s an idea in its infancy, and there’s nothing formalized yet, but it’s very exciting,” said library trustee Jackie Letkeman, who attended as a steering committee member. “(The meeting with council) wasn’t asking for any specific action or item or change, it was a conversation, to let them know that a) There is a critical mass of business owners who want to work cohesively to further our shared goals and interests and, b) There are a collection of concerns and wants, and we’re very much aware that addressing them needs to be a collaborative effort between business owners and the city.”
Letkeman explained all this was the product of another meeting, earlier this year.
Facilitated by the Chamber of Commerce executive director at the request of several members, more than 70 downtown business owners/stakeholders met in early February to discuss ways of collaborating to enhance the city’s downtown area, now and into the future. (Ed. Note: It’s important to distinguish that this is in no way a Chamber initiative, but rather an ad hoc gathering to determine how much, if any, interest there is creating a cohesive venue in which to address issues impacting the city’s core.)
Said interest clearly exists, as the 70+ people who showed up represent more than 50 per cent of downtown business owners and more than 85 per cent of stakeholders have expressed an interest in attending any follow-up meetings.
“Numerous business owners in the downtown area have been looking to create a group that would support each other in terms of economic growth, sustainability, attracting new business, cultural development …,” Letkeman said, emphasizing the intent is very much to benefit all of Castlegar with a thriving downtown core, as opposed to diminishing, in any way, the success of commerce in other parts of the community.
She cited examples such as Sculpturewalk, Communities in Bloom and the new Millennium Ponds as projects that have had exponential benefit, not just for the core, but for the city as a whole, as identified by the attendees at the meeting.
The way the February meeting was structured, facilitated by Chamber executive director Tammy Vergin-Burke and Community Future’s Charlotte Ferreux, was that the attendees broke off into round table groups to discuss three key issues – economic growth, sustainability, and how to further improve the downtown core. A list of priorities and suggestions was created based on those discussions.
“We voted on what we felt were the most important issues,” Letkeman said, adding Verigin-Burke then compiled the data and gave it to the steering committee (about seven people, all volunteers from the meeting), who then decided how to best present it to the city.
Letkeman said the city’s response was very positive.
“They were very encouraged to see downtown businesses coming forward in the numbers they are,” she said. “It will be the first of many conversations.”
She said the steering committee will meet again, probably this week.
“Then, by mid to late April, we will have had a chance to poll the whole group again, present our results from the city meeting and figure out what are next steps are as a collective.”
“I thought it was a good first contact,” said City councillor and deputy-chair of the Cultural and Civic Pride committee Kevin Chernoff. “We haven’t had a Downtown Business Association since I’ve been on council, so for at least nine years.
“They had some positives for the city and some things they’d like to see us address, some of which will be quite simple for the city to do,” he added. “It’s nice to have them come forward. It gives us an avenue to find out what’s happening downtown. This kind of feedback is exactly what we need to ensure we’re moving the city forward in a direction that benefits everyone.”