The Chamber is asking all candidates a series of business related questions so you have the information you need to make an informed voting choice. Questions and answers will be posted here twice a week. Check back regularly and follow the Chamber on Facebook for notification of new posts.
All Candidates Forum November 4: Click here for full details.
Question 5: Where do you see the challenges to downtown development and how could Mayor and Council work with the business community and others to overcome these challenges?
Candidates for Council
The building infrastructure of the downtown core is amongst the oldest in Summerland, and many businesses are struggling to remain vital and relevant in this thriving Big Box-era of consumerism. There is no easy fix but we cannot spend our way to a prosperous downtown.
- Upgrading old buildings/costs of those upgrades to owners.
- Rental costs to businesses/the challenge to cover costs.
- Internet buying creates challenges for businesses
- big box stores draws people to other communities.
- Transporting residents into our own downtown core.
- Encourage integration of arts/culture/agri-tourism/non-profits to locate in town, creating draw.
- Enable/encourage/collaboration and partnerships in community events resulting in a shared work load.
- Review SWOT analysis already done and build on that work.
- Perhaps tax incentives for store owners to invest & support for downtown activities.
- Support bridging existing (& not cause more) divisions in town.
Response not available at publication
Council with its planning policies and the processes involved with these, helps to set the stage for development. Reducing red tape by integrating processing between municipal departments can help to make applications less frustrating. The general tone of council as to whether they are interested in sourcing and inviting investors, commercial and light industrial businesses into our area is very important. They should be working collaboratively with the businesses that are presently established here to assist where they can to market, promote and encourage there future viability. Inviting these businesses to a round table discussion to look for ideas and ways to create a more vital and prosperous downtown could be a good start. If Council were to set up an Economic Development Committee perhaps many of the highly skilled and experienced people in the community could come together and collaborate on ways to improve our towns economic outlook.
1. The primary challenges to the downtown core are: bringing people into downtown; creating interest in downtown; giving the public a reason to come downtown.
Possible remedies would be: developing a Business Advisory Committee, comprised of local business people who would help with any problems businesses are facing; the creation of a Downtown Business Committee to work with our Chamber to develop ideas to attract local and outside people to come downtown; and the resurrection of festivals such as A Taste of Summerland to generate interest and vitality in our downtown core.
2. The most important incentive to offer is for a business to become part of a wonderful community with a vast opportunity for growth. Let us create a community that draws people and businesses to it. By uniting and rejuventating our existing business community we will create an atmosphere of prosperity which will attract future business opportunities from outside our vicinity. If we can accomplish this goal the cost would be insignificant.
Parking is a major issue, and will only get worse when business improves. This needs to be incorporated into our plans for city owned land in the downtown core. I have also heard so many complaints about the lack of washrooms in the winter months and the poor state of our facilities in the park.
Increased frequency of busing may bring shoppers to Summerland, and give people options to live here and work in Penticton. We should look at the effect busing has had on West Kelowna as a model for Summerland.
We need to improve our presence in the Okanagan as a destination for tourists and locals looking for activities and festivals. I would be good to provide some tax discounts or funding to businesses who participate in promoting Summerland in their advertising. This could tie in with the campaigns of events like the Summerland Festival of Lights.
Summerland’s downtown has the potential to be a shopping destination that draws people from all over the valley. We’ve already got some great boutique shops, now we have to work on filling our empty storefronts. I’d love see a book shop or shoe store – something that appeals to all ages and genders.
However, it’s council job to facilitate business. This means providing infrastructure, setting reasonable tax rates and creating an attractive downtown where businesses want to set up and customers want to spend their money.
We can’t force landlords to improve their buildings, and it’s difficult to just drop business taxes. Perhaps creating a working group, similar to the Downtown Penticton Association, where we can talk about ways to tackle these challenges would be a place to start. Adding more festivals or offering district grants for business improvement are also ideas.
Martin (Marty) Van Alphen
I believe that the biggest challenge to downtown development is a sluggish economy which has been made apparent in empty store-fronts, proportionately high lease rates, uncertainty over the development of Wharton Street and the lack of a consistent and committed “buy-local” mindset. The reality is that our Municipal Council has limited impact on the economy but can do a lot to ensure District staff provide new and existing businesses with support and start-up services. The current Council has made sure that both of the entrances to the downtown core are aesthetically pleasing through significant improvements. As well they have installed directional signs which guide travelers off of HWY 97 to the heart of our Municipality. The other positive is that the new Okanagan Regional Library currently under construction will significantly help with revitalization. This next Council, no matter who is sitting at the table, must show clear and committed leadership to support the restoration and revival of our downtown core. Through community conversations hosted jointly between Municipal Council and the Chamber of Commerce collectively we should be able to start to build a picture of what a vibrant, inviting and sustainable downtown Summerland would look like.
The Olde English theme of our downtown has been a success and the quaintness of downtown draws a lot of visitors from outside of the community, which of course supports local business.
Council has to take a leadership position with our downtown businesses and facilitate a consensus on how the downtown can be further enhanced and how we draw more people to our downtown area. This begins with having a uniform building scheme. Every individual building is nice when it is new, but nothing is gained by having buildings that with time, have obvious differences in style and construction materials.
Increased ease of transportation makes shopping in other communities with larger big box stores more attractive. By the same token, it also makes it easier and faster for out of town people to come to Summerland if we have something unique to offer.
As the saying goes, in every challenge there is an opportunity.
I have some ideas I hope to bring to the table about how our downtown business sector might be revitalized. As Councillor, however, my role, is to ensure policy, resources, and zoning is in place to allow for business development downtown and in rural areas of Summerland.
I will strongly advocate for the hiring of an Economic Development Officer and work to ensure adequate resources are allocated for the EDO and support staff.
We must recognize our goal is to attract people – entrepreneurs – to Summerland and plan accordingly.
It is critical to have a comprehensive Economic Development Plan in place that answers some key questions:
- What type of entrepreneurs (existing or new residents) do we want to attract?
– Do these entrepreneurs’ businesses fit into a balanced, self-reliant community model?
-What are some strategies to attract, support and retain these entrepreneurs?
This Plan must be a collaborative effort with the business community and other stakeholders and include a consultative process.
The global economy is ever shifting and we must look outside of Summerland to improve inside of Summerland. Competing with large retailers is challenging, therefore we should continue to attract a balance of businesses that offer the services Summerlanders need, and destination shopping for tourists and locals alike. If we desire a bustling retail community, it’s time to determine what services are available in neighbouring cities that people would rather buy locally.
It is possible to find other thriving communities with similar size and demographics,and emulate their models of downtown success (ie Nelson). We have great examples of unique, successful businesses in our community. Working with these owners, Council can help them get what they need to succeed in the current economic climate.
An ongoing citizen’s task force on the economy with representatives from business would ensure that this issue is not just an election topic.
Affordable multi-family entry-level housing on the Kelly Care and the RCMP sites for young families who could work and shop locally and fill our schools would help. Encouraging infill development in the core where existing infrastructure ensures that the District can afford to service new buildings is important. There is no need to use high value ALR land to help downtown.
A proper downtown Art Gallery is essential.
The District should re-instate the position of Economic Development Officer which was eliminated during the economic downturn. We need to lure job-creators and investors, not just hope that they might pick Summerland. Leveraging a partnership with the Thompson Okanagan Tourist Association would stretch our reach and dollars beyond just our Chamber’s website to attract tourists and investors.
Response not available at publication
Being a downtown business owner and developer since 2005, I am well acquainted with the challenges we face. Recent councils have made some positive strides with the reformed design rules and sign regulations. These relaxed codes will encourage future development.
The obvious current challenge facing our downtown development is the vacancies on Main Street and Wharton Street. I don’t think it is fair to fault council for the failures of past Wharton Street projects. What is needed is demand for development. This can only come from growth. I believe council should set some healthy growth goals and ensure they foster a positive and encouraging attitude toward our Chamber of Commerce and the petitions of present and future developers.
Growth is not a dirty word, but a necessity for our collective future prosperity. If planned well, and measured timely, we all stand to benefit.
The main challenge is to overcome temptations for high-risk, low-return quick fixes rather than incremental investments based on Smart Growth principles. Grandiose project proposals waste municipal resources and leave us with just a big hole in the ground. Infill, redevelopment and densification are better alternatives. We need to consider what draws people downtown. Often people stop to shop after picking up the kids from school, using the swimming pool, visiting the library, etc. It’s recreation and culture that creates a vibrant and prosperous downtown and turns communities into places of interest, and that social activity leads to an economic impact. So recreation and culture need to be part of any economic development or downtown revitalization strategy. All planning will require input from stakeholders like the business community. We can’t continue with the same old top-down style of governance; we have to embrace a new era of openness and community engagement.
The Mayor and Council can help in many ways. First of all they need to encourage the development of the Wharton St project into a combination of ground floor commercial and upper floor residential, to provide for some new commercial services to Summerland, as well as putting some new people in the downtown core. This will act as a catalyst for the redevelopment of the rest of the downtown area and bring some new customers to this area. Future growth should be encouraged within easy walking distance to the downtown core, as is being proposed, more new customers with easy access to downtown. As in business, Council needs to come up with a plan for steady future growth in our community and this will help making the downtown more sustainable.
As a business operator in the town core for over 10 years, I have direct experience with the challenges that currently exist. We will see the greatest improvement in the health of our downtown merchants through the attraction of more families and young professionals to our community.
By increasing the population of key consumer groups living near the town core we increase the customer base for our local merchants.
By increasing our customer base we improve the capability of our business owners to expand their selection of goods, expand their operating hours, and hire more local employees.
With improved capability we increase the selection of goods and services available here in Summerland, and the less residents will see value in leaving the community to do their shopping.
Business needs customers to thrive and expand, if we use the tools available to us, we can meet this crucial need.
Candidates for Mayor
Since 2006, Council has had two failed attempts for development of the Wharton Street Project. This has been attributed to several reasons, most of which is the 2008 downturn in the economy. Attracting a developer to provide a business/ residential complex is challenging. Previous Councils have even forgiven the land costs to achieve certain amenities to the District. With the Library out of the equation, this could further inhibit development. As businesses and individuals could we as a community look at building our own vision for this area? This could be achieved through local investment for economic development, through an organization such as “Opportunities Development Cooperatives”, allowing local residents to take their RRSP’s and invest in a joint building venture. This model is being used in Alberta and Nova Scotia to mobilize local investment capital to further business opportunities. It works and is getting good return on investments made individually.
The challenge during the recession has been exceptional. A world-wide slowdown has ramifications that cannot be solved readily at the municipal level. The advent of big box stores and chains, over the last fifteen to twenty years, make competition very tough for small towns. A new business model is emerging. Specialty retail and niche businesses, and we have some in town now, market beyond Summerland to the 175,000 people to the north and the approximately 50 to 60,000 to the south. We have only to energize a relatively small business core. The new library and new location of the Art Gallery and the Potter’s Guild will create more buzz.
I am proposing a “Mayor’s Task Force” to discuss and come up with ideas to reenergize our business sector. I will encourage council to engage the community, together we have the energy, the ideas and the passion to move Summerland forward.
Increasing revenues is the major challenge for our downtown businesses. Residents of Summerland generally choose to shop locally, however we need to develop more opportunities for Summerland to be a unique destination. Additionally, we need to attract people from the region to our downtown. I propose a self funded Event Planning Co-ordinator position to promote Summerland as the Community of Festivals!
In addition we need to support the establishment of new commercial business downtown to provide a variety shopping options.
Professional businesses can also help to revitalize and diversify the downtown. Establishing opportunities for high tech office complexes or convention facilities are all good ideas in need of further investigation.
The Mayor & council must lead by example with unity on the downtown development. They and the business community will get nowhere unless the whole community is on board. Summerland residents must want to go downtown to support local businesses and so the attitude of the community must change to one of placing the |”Summerland Community First”. When a plan is established it must include all eight distinct groups – Agriculture, Tourism, Seniors, The Young, Developers, Enviromentalist, Arts and Business. (May I dare to add the Christian community that in one case is bursting at its seams and looking at all options.)
Look to what is large with significant growth – Kelowna Cancer Clinic. Because I promote agreeing to disagree and building on common ground, this suggestion comes from a businessman who disagreed with me until he realized that more was to be accomplished by communication of ideas! Shalom [Peace beyond understanding]
The following are policies supported by the Thompson Okanagan Tourist Association.
DENSIFICATION: Increasing the population downtown supports downtown business. There has not been a four storey or three storey building in Summerland since I was Mayor. Over the past six years there were opportunities to go multi-storey. I would continue that policy of densification.
ATTRACTIVENESS: I agree with the TOTA recommendation regarding “storytelling and theming”. With our colourful past, Summerland has huge opportunities to meet the needs of the curious tourist. We need to focus on attractive buildings and roads. Having a building theme is not a burden on business: it allows a community to screen out unattractive, box-like buildings.
CONVENIENCE: abundant parking opportunities is the key to business success. We can not afford another library blunder with it’s significant parking losses. Summerland needs a Council that understands the importance of parking and its impact on business.