Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Observations on state of downtown and business climate spur on line discussions

The Old Dairy Queen Building at McBride and Third Avenue West has
long been abandoned and has made for 
the frequent topic 
of discussion on the state of the city's downtown area.

With the first two months of 2018 providing for the sobering news of more business closures and the ever growing visual of papered over windows and empty buildings in the downtown core, the theme of the city's retail sector is making for a fair bit of discussion through social media these days, a conversation that seems to ebb and flow on a fairly consistent schedule.

The most recent spark to the theme came from this letter to the editor in the weekly newspaper, which highlights many of the struggles that would be business operators face in the community and the challenges that are present on the North Coast.

From the boom time mentality of the last few years that has delivered high rent expectations and even higher purchase costs for commercial space, to issues of crime, social cliques and the increasing list of the stores that have closed, François Blanchet offered up much for Prince Rupert residents to consider.

The letter dated March 1st came with the attention grabbing header of Wake up, Rupert and made for a focal point for discussion on Facebook this week, with one attentive City Councillor, Blair Mirau weighing in to once again call attention to his Small Business Advisory Committee, giving the project a shout out through his Facebok page following the publication of the letter to the editor.

The Committee was a concept which the first term council member first brought to Council back in 2015.

While Mr. Mirau notes that the Committee is currently working towards a presentation for Council for this Spring, the process of getting that focus to effect some change for Small Business seems to have been squandered to some extent from those early days of this Council's mandate.

Close to four years have now passed before the Committee will be able to deliver any recommendations since the idea was first introduced back in 2015

And while there have been a few new additions to the city's commercial class, the volume of empty spaces downtown continues to increase as more and more small business owners call it quits.

The Councillor's Facebook page observations of earlier this month make for the only commentary from civic officials in a fair bit of time on the status of the committee.

The project appeared to go into hibernation for much of 2017, with little discussion on its progress last year, a theme that has been continued through the four Council sessions that have taken place so far in 2018.

The status of the city's business climate for 2017 was the subject of a business walk last year, which saw some of the council members getting first hand commentary from business owners on the issues of the day.

Should they hold a third annual business walk this Spring, Council members may find even more notes that need to be addressed, courtesy of the community's business sector. 

A look at the timeline of the Councillor's Initiative and other notes on downtown issues provides some of the background to the struggles in getting that focus on business in place.


August 25 -- Councillor Cunningham keeps heat on City Council over condition of downtown buildings
March 9 -- Councillor Mirau offers salute to Chamber of Commerce Awards
February 24 -- Mayor unveils Waterfront plan for rotary crowd
February 17 -- Chamber of seeks ideas for downtown improvement


December 9 -- City on the search for members for the Small Business Advisory Committee
December 1 -- Four days of planning sessions deliver many concepts for the Prince Rupert of tomorrow
November 4 -- City sets dates for November planning sessions
October 12 -- City outlines latest consultation plans for a range of planning initiatives
April 14 -- Small Business Advisory Council plans move forward
February 12 -- Councillor Cunningham looks to seek more engagement with labour on issues in Prince Rupert
February 12 -- Small Business Committee plans remain stalled, with a workshop the next stage to find momentum
January 29 -- Those Big Box themes start to percolate at City Council
January 28 -- Councillor Mirau's Small Business Advisory Committee Terms sent back to the writer's workshop
January 24 -- Council to receive Terms of Reference for Committees planned for 2016


Those Business owners still in place in the city and others that may considering their options as to whether to start one or not, will be quite interested in what the Small Business Committee can come up with as far as recommendations.

However, time is moving fast against Mr. Mirau and his ambitions for the project, with the Council calendar soon to head into a summer season of reduced Council sessions of once a month for July and August.

Followed then with Council having cancelled all of their sessions for September and October. 

All of which may leave sharing word of the work of the Committee and taking action on any of their recommendations to fall to the next City Council following the October election.

There's no guarantees that a council with new faces and new ideas may not want to take the issue of the downtown core and the business climate and find their own solutions. In the mean time, as we've seen through the last few weeks, the store closure announcements continue to show up on the front windows of the downtown area.

It wasn't all that long ago that previous City Council's were considering the prospect of chain stores and Shopping Villages as part of the commercial landscape of the future for the city.

That narrative has clearly shifted over the last four years, with the new focus now that of just trying to hang on to what's left.

A helpful way to chart the course of the evolution of the North Coast Business scene over the last number of years can be found through our Commercial Sector archive page here.

More notes of interest about the work of Prince Rupert City Council can be reviewed through our Council Discussion archive.

To return to the most recent blog posting of the day, click here.

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