By David F. Rooney
How many empty commercial properties do you think are scattered across the city? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty?
Twenty-seven — 24 of them in the downtown core and industrial park and three in the Big Eddy — according to a list put together by an ad hoc group of citizens who are seeking innovative solutions to fill them. Click here to view the list.
Stoke FM’s Scott Duke says he and other members of the Prosperity Club are working with the Chamber of Commerce and the City to promote a public discussion about ways to encourage new investment in our fair city.
Towards that end he met with Mayor David Raven for two hours on Monday morning to discuss the issue. Their discussion ranged from old problems such as business taxes to new ideas such as micro-loans, and lower business licenses for first-time businesses.
“There are ideas out there and we want people to come up with as many as possible,” Duke said during an interview at Sangha Bean Café on Monday morning.
To help promote that discussion Duke has compiled a list of more than 90 ideas for potential businesses suggested by local residents. These are just ideas. They don’t reflect anything that is necessarily happening right now or in the immediate future. The ideas range from starting a local advertising agency and more bill boards along the Trans-Canada to a chocolate store, drilling company, a lock smith, a mini-golf course, a women’s gym, an M&M Meats franchise and a Thai Restaurant.
“Somebody’s got to make a list,” he said. “That gives us a starting point for discussion.”
Duke said the Prosperity Club is just a group “of individuals who want to better the community.” About half of them are business operators and the rest are “interested parties,” he said.
Judy Goodman, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, is aware of the empty retail space problem and is working with Revelstoke Museum Curator Cathy English on ideas to — at the very least — “spruce up” the appearance of empty store fronts perhaps by taking down the paper that is plastered over empty windows and putting up historical and cultural displays.
The Chamber is also considering a survey of local residents for their views and may hold a public meeting in the early autumn to come up with solutions.
For its part, the City is, of course, interested in anything that creates a more prosperous community. But Mayor David Raven says the City’s approach has to be a careful one.
Some people may want the City to assume a major role, but Raven does not think the business community would really benefit from an activist municipal government. It has enough on its plate dealing with commercial and residential property taxes and efficiency within City Hall. It’s also restructuring City Hall (Click here to read the update on the City Hall Restructuring Plan) to streamline its operations and improve customer service.
But that doesn’t mean the Mayor and everyone else at City Hall is unwilling to address the issue of community-wide economic prosperity. It has a vested interest in it — just like everyone else. That vested interest shows up in the amount of taxes collected, the number of permanent residents — 7,300 according to the new 2012 Annual Report — a decline from a few years ago when we had 7,500 residents and the number of business licenses issued by the City — 874, down from 909 in June 2012. The City needs a thriving local economy and a growing and engaged population.
“What role should the City play?” Raven asked during a lengthy Tuesday afternoon interview. “We should just get out of the way. My position is that the City has to be fair, consistent and non-intrusive.”
While it can and will support public discussion and will offer assistance and information to businesses that want to open shop here, it does not want to interfere with business or with what and how people spent their time and money. Having said that, though, all Revelstokians have to recognize that they bear a measure of responsibility for the success of our local economy.
“There’s a local businessman… who’d watch the cars heading out of town along Victoria Road on the weekends and say, ‘Well, there goes another million dollars,'” the Mayor said.
The story may, to an extent, be apocryphal but out-of-town shopping is a major issue. Everyone has to ask themselves these questions:
Where do we shop?
Where do we buy our cars and trucks?
Where do we buy our groceries?
“Whenever I leave Revelstoke and meet other mayors and CAOs it’s very apparent that they regard us as being on the leading edge of municipal government and community action and success… yet people go out of town to Walmart, Costco, even White Rock Ford to buy what they want,” Raven said.
The community that works together can find solutions. And if all of the players in Revelstoke are on the same page we can actually have a valuable public discussion. Let’s do it.