Downtown Sidney will be the focus of a new task force established by Mayor Larry Cross following weeks of concern expressed over the future of the community’s retail core.
On April 7, after repeated calls to do so by a local retail marketing consultant, Cross announced a Mayor’s Downtown Revitalization Task Force. Its focus will be on “the short and long-term opportunities and challenges to Sidney’s unique business district.” In a media release on Monday, Cross stated that the main goal of the task force is “to develop an overall strategy and a series of achievable actions that will accelerate the economic development of Sidney.”
The announcement came after Cross had, two weeks ago, stated that any such action would have to be led by the business community.
“While Mayor Cross and Council may see value in the development of such a plan, from Council’s perspective, it should be led by business leaders within the community and not be directed by the Town,” stated a March 24 media release.
Retail consultant Richard Talbot said the latest comments from the mayor amount to a flip flop.
“It’s a total reversal of the mayor’s position last week when he wanted the business community to lead it,” said Talbot Monday.
Cross rejects that charge, saying he was looking for solid support from the business community before establishing the task force.
Cross told the PNR Monday he has not changed his mind about the task force, but had been waiting for buy-in — something he says he received from the Sidney Business Improvement Area (SBIA).
“I have been involved in organizations like this all of my career and you need the buy-in,” Cross said. “This has been coming for a long time and it’s a confirmation of (the Town’s) groundwork.”
Cross added he is fine with taking on a leadership role, but he did not want to do it alone. Already, he continued, response has been good and he said he expects the task force could be filled out by week’s end.
“We have to position the Town for the future. “It’s a moment of change and it’s time has come.”
Talbot had been calling on the mayor to lead since he began speaking with the Town weeks ago. He has outlined the challenges that could be faced by business once commercial developments in Central and North Saanich are built. With the Jesken Town Centre and Sandown Commons in the works, Talbot has stated Sidney retailers could stand to lose a significant percentage of their business, unless the community can find a way to revitalize the downtown.
Talbot said Cross’ announcement this week is a step in the right direction.
“The bottom line is there needs to be a partnership between the community and business owners who want to lead local change. Then, you have to have the political will to carry it out.”
A search for those leaders is the focus of a forum tonight (Wed., April 9) at 6 p.m. at the Mary Winspear Centre. Steve Duck of the TIDES Group and the Sidney Tourism Improvement Group (STIG) are bringing Talbot back to the stage for the general public and business owners. Duck said the goal is to find people interested in taking on the issue.
“The community still needs to hear what business owners concerns are regarding these threats,” Duck said.
He said it’s important for residents to become interested because many business owners are too busy keeping their doors open.
“Sidney has to find a way to be prepared for (Jesken and Sandown),” Duck continued, adding he is thankful the mayor has picked up the baton to lead a task force forward.
“I hope there is collaboration. I don’t want there to be separate entities. The challenge is having the willingness to collaborate.”
The SBIA expressed full support for the task force in Monday’s media release. Chair Cliff McNeil-Smith, stated “together we can continue to tackle challenges and pursue the opportunities before us.”
Terms of reference for the new task force are in the works. Members will include downtown property owners, business owners, community leaders, residents, the non-profit sector and council members.