Downtown PG’s Annual Report Gives Pause For Pulse-Taking
Prince George, BC – Responding to criticism from Councillor Brian Skakun that the Downtown Business Improvement Association’s annual report failed to touch on any of the pervasive issues in the city’s centre, President Eoin Foley said addressing public safety and perception issues are central to every DBIA initiative.
Following Executive Director, Colleen Van Mook’s, presentation highlighting the association’s activities over the past year and outlining strategic priorities for the year ahead at Monday night’s meeting, Councillor Skakun said the slides looked good, but he pointed to concerning omissions.
“I don’t know if it’s a strategy (sic) of the Downtown Business Improvement group to not publicly say much with regards to the needle exchange issues, crime, public safety, and how people feel downtown, and I’m just wondering, what is your strategy going forward?”
Foley said public safety is at the core of the group’s mandate to revitalize the downtown, “Basically, every single project that we do, every event – whether it’s (removing) graffiti, the facade improvement – absolutely everything has safety tied in.”
As part of a city-wide Graffiti-Free program, the DBIA has partnered with a number of groups to assist with the cost and labour of removing graffiti in the downtown core. While the Facade Improvement Grant program is a partnership with the City and Northern Development Initiative Trust to encourage downtown business owners to invest in their properties. In the last eight months alone, the DBIA has approved 19 projects with a total value of close to $1-million dollars. (bar graph below courtesy DBIA)
Foley said both programs go a long way – when the downtown looks cleaner, people feel safer; when the facades have more transparency from the inside to the outside, it creates “more eyes on the street.”
“Regarding, specifically, the needle exchange program, there’s ongoing conversation with Northern Health, with the City involved closely, about what sort of better solutions we have that we can explore with that.” But Foley said the DBIA is constantly working with the City and RCMP on safety issues.
For his part, Skakun said city residents want to hear the good stuff, but they also want to know the association is looking after the “not-so-nice stuff, too.”
During the DBIA’s presentation, Councillors heard of a ‘renewed faith’ in the downtown, with more than a dozen businesses opening or re-opening since January, and another six businesses expected to start up operations before the year runs out.
Councillor Terri McConnachie commended all the “intreprid business owners” for their investment and “really bumping up the volume downtown.”
Mayor Lyn Hall made mention of a local realtor putting out several photos on social media, dubbed, ‘The New Face of Downtown PG’, showing many of the facade improvements.
Hall said it’s incredible to see what’s happening downtown and he credited the City’s partnerships with groups like the DBIA for making that change happen.
Foley, who is co-owner of Nancy O’s restaurant concurred, saying, “It’s the most positive I’ve seen downtown since we opened.”
The Downtown Business Improvement Association receives its base funding from the collection of a local tax levied on 259 parcels in the downtown core with an assessed value of more than $210-million dollars. In 2016, that amounted to $241-thousand dollars in base funding, which the association used to leverage an additional $342-thousand dollars through grants, sponsorships and partnerships.
Take it easy Councillor; Brian Skakun. It is previous mayor and council decisions to open up the hwy 16 West corridor from River Point Plaza at Ferry Ave. to Brook Wood Plaza at Cowart Road, up through to the biggest retail area out at Walmart, etc. that has sucked the life out of downtown Prince George.
Retail used to be downtown, now because of the rezoning approvals by previous mayor and councils, many of the downtown businesses have moved out to the more rural Hwy 16 West corridor. Approving Walmart, historically, was the biggest life sucking decision for the future of the Prince George downtown area, IMO.
Brian needs to read the agreement between the City and the DIA.
The mandate of the DBIA is different than the mandate of the RCMP and the City of Prince George. If he want to report on how it is going with crime downtown, ask the right people.
In fact, the DBIA needs to ask Brian and his fellow councillors how they are doing with their mandate.
As far as previous councils goes, take it all the way back to the council that approved the Pine Centre. Spreading shopping all over the place outwards from downtown has been a major contributor to the death of small and medium sized cities and even larger cities’ downtowns across the USA and Canada for 50 years.
The following Time Magazine article does not just apply to USA towns and small cities, it applies to us as well.
The most shocking example of Walmart’s impact on local small retail is in Quesnel, which is smaller than PG. When Walmart opened at it’s current location, south of town, the mall across the highway from it spiraled into oblivion. One just has to look at the number of cars in that mall parking lot to see the direct impact Walmart has on small retail business.
While PG is bigger, the impact Walmart had on the downtown business area was measurable!
What you are missing is that it is not WalMart, it is what is known as big box stores which the original WalMart morphed into as did several other stores, such as Canadian Tire stores. When I grew up it was a store smaller than the first Canadian Tire store in PG. There is no comparison of those stores to today’s super box stores.
That was coupled with the lack of interest in enclosed shopping centres surrounded by parking, making it difficult to destination shop. People were forced to walk past many retailers which many of them really had no interest in. Networked retail/service providers rather than directly accessed retail/service providers.
Nobody builds an Edmonton shopping mall anymore. They are arks.
Over time, we have gone back to the original version of shopping malls such as Spruceland in PG. That was followed by the Parkwood indoor shopping mall anchored by Woodwards department store on one end and the Woodwards grocery store on the other and included a movie theatre with smaller stores between and protection from the elements.
Pine Centre was the next one. There was a mini attempt to start an interior mall in the Hart, but the outdoor mall started to dominate.
The indoor mall in Quesnel, as well as the one in 100 mile house and others lost out to exterior malls. It had nothing to do with WalMart. It had to do with a new version of department stores, as well as the “giant sizing” of specialty retail stores.
In PG, the proposed indoor mall downtown (Cadillac-Fairview proposal) was planned during the transition and the demise of the Eaton department store.
The old Woodwards indoor mall was proposed to be rebuilt as another major indoor mall to compete with Pine Centre. That failed because the preferred shopping centre model had returned to outdoor access retail/service.
Thus, we are today shopping at a new Parkwood Mall. An apparent success when first opened, it has been ha having problems filling its retail spaces. The pub died. The Theatre is dying, not able to repair its exterior lit sign. A total embarrassment for some ranging to a reasonable success for others.
Spruceland, on the other hand was rejuvenated. With lower rental rates, it is likely doing reasonably well.
“Box store heaven” as I refer to the “Smart Centre” exterior destination mall at CH won out.
That was followed by River Point which started small and has been expanding as new retailers are found. Exterior malls can take advantage of such development methods, constructing pods of smaller retail/services as well as small to medium sized “box” stores as the demand from retailers willing to sign onto long term leases prompts expansion.
Canadian Tire, Lowes, Home Depot, WalMart, Costco, Future Shop/Best Buy, Home Sense, Superstore, etc. etc. all need to be directly reachable and will not work as well in an indoor mall unless they are anchors and have direct outside access with parking adjacent. Target and Lowes are good examples.
Look at the Pine Centre. They have built direct access retail/service spaces for RBC, BCLB, Starbucks and now even host an outdoor public market.
I do not know when PG will begin to see pressure from developers to locate multi-storey office buildings as well as residential components and finally recreation facilities such as a swimming pool, exercise facilities, personal wellness centres, small multi-purpose theatres, hobby centres, etc.: mixed-use centres as are being built in other communities.
That is the reason for the demise of downtown in many mid-sized cities such as Prince George – the creation of new, automobile friendly activity centres which can be and in some locations are surrounded by residential densities which can support them.
Box store heaven is a development in PG which has been acquired by Smartreit also known as Smart Centres. They are located throughout Canada.
If you want to look at what they are doing in some other regions, go to their site at smartreit.com and learn something about the morphing of “shopping centres”.
Don’t worry, shipping, entertainment, recreation, housing, workplaces, etc. will continue to morph generation after generation. Where it will be 50 years and 100 years from now, who know?
Both very good points. Drive anywhere in North American medium to large cities & it is like city planners all went to the same school. Wal-marts & other large box store on the outskirts, while the city centres struggle. Vancouver had the right idea, bring people to live in the city core & the small businesses will follow, unfortunately it became a bit too successful from a prospective home buyers perspective. Personally, I will not shop at Wal-mart because of the points jgalt made, they suck the financial life out of anywhere they go, sort of like a retail super virus. I am curious though, with the huge onset of online shopping, how has it affected retail business in cities?
You’re right about Pine Centre (1975-76) but maybe we could even consider it all began when Spruceland Shopping Centre was built,
about 1967. At the time, Spruceland was anchored by a major grocery store (Safeway) and a sizable department store (Stedman’s) a popular restaurant (Chuckwagon Cafe) plus a host of other small businesses.
All of these businesses took retail shopping away from downtown.
Getting the people downtown to stop sleeping in doorways and alleys would be a good start. I agree that there is a serious health issue in this area, however it seems nothing is being done.
The new downtown parking bylaws will be another nail in the coffin of downtown because as it now stands it will restrict the movement of people who work downtown, and of course keep others from coming downtown to shop.
We need a plan to get people off the street and into some sort of housing, however the downside of providing cheap housing and free food and clothing, is that it attracts more people and thus the problem continues.
Free parking verses pay parking with the added risk of a parking ticket or towing . If you really want to kill down town stone dead just add tire boots to your repertoire. That should do it .
Yesss the new parking bylaws will have considerable impact on people going downtown, certainly can’t blame WalMart for that
LOL How long has Mr Skakun been on Council? Take some responsibility Brian this has happened on your watch and despite taking an ever increasing paycheck courtesy of us taxpayers which of course also comes with a bonus of being 1/3 tax free, what have you done to help improve the state of downtown?
No seriously, name one thing?
You have sat there and allowed businesses to vacate downtown. You sat there for the better part of the past decade, cashed your taxpayer support cheque and have done absolutely nothing to help improve downtown. About time you rolled up the sleeves and actually tried to make things better rather than just throwing stones at the very people actually trying to make a difference once the lights and cameras are turned on at city council.
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