Downtown dilemma

With looming commercial development, a group of merchants hope the community gets behind an effort to improve downtown Sidney

Retail consultant Richard Talbot will present his case at the Mary Winspear Centre on April 9.

Getting the residents of Sidney to support an effort to improve the downtown core is the impetus behind the third presentation of a retail threats report by an international retail and marketing consultant.

On April 9, the Sidney Tourism Improvement Group (STIG) hosts Sidney resident Richard Talbot as he delivers an overview of the commercial development projects planned in Central and North Saanich and their potential impact on Sidney businesses. He will be joined at the Mary Winspear Centre by Sidney retailer Garry Froese, owner of InTouch Cards and Gifts. Froese will address the issue from the perspective of a business operator.

“Garry is a dynamic speaker and his presentation will focus on the challenges to local retailers,” says Steve Duck of the TIDES Group, which is providing the event management.

Called SOS — Save Our Sidney, Duck said the title is apt in the wake of concerns expressed by residents and businesses following Talbot’s two earlier presentations to Town council and the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.

“Yes, it is an SOS,” Duck said, noting recent statistics that show Sidney has an estimated six per cent retail vacancy rate — second in Greater Victoria to View Royal.

“This is happening even without (planned commercial developments) at the Jesken Town Centre and Sandown Commons,” Duck continued.

He said the municipality, the Chamber of Commerce and the Sidney Business Improvement Area (SBIA) have heard Talbot’s warnings and still no action has been taken. Duck said the evening will include a question and answer session and meet and greet afterwards, with the specific goal of establishing a committee. That committee, he said, will be tasked with creating an action plan and holding a workshop in, ideally, two weeks’ time.

Talbot said it’s important the general public gets involved, as the business property owners — especially those who live elsewhere and cannot vote locally — often get ignored. He said he sees this effort creating a lobby group that will push for local politicians to get behind improvements to the town’s downtown core. Such a group working on the future of the business core, he asserted, should have the mayor of the community at the fore. Mayor Larry Cross has stated such a plan should originate from the business community itself. Talbot said in any case, everyone  needs to work together for anything to get done.

“This idea was a wake-up call,” Talbot said of his presentation which outlines potential retail sales losses once large commercial projects are built. “Residents need to be involved in a big way.”

Talbot has called for a variety of downtown changes in order to prepare retailers for an onslaught of change. Those include improving the town’s main gateways, upgrading Beacon Wharf, improving storefronts and signage, coordinating business hours and fixing Sidney’s convoluted traffic patterns.

Talbot also addressed the mayor’s concern about inappropriate comments during his presentations — specifically on Talbot saying body parts should be used to stop the large developments. Talbot said he was referring to the ongoing filming of the murder mystery series Gracepoint on the Saanich Peninsula.

Cross, in a media release, stated such comments could be offensive to First Nations communities.

The April 9 session takes place at the Mary Winspear Centre’s Charlie White Theatre from 6 to 8:30 p.m.