SOS group to act as task force watchdogs

Organizers of the new Save Our Sidney working group says they hope to act as watchdogs of the Mayor’s Task Force

Organizers of the new Save Our Sidney working group on the future of downtown commercial fortunes, says they hope to act as watchdogs of the Mayor’s Task Force on Downtown Revitalization.

More than 50 people expressed an interest to be part of SOS following a public presentation by Sidney business owner Garry Froese and international retail consultant Richard Talbot earlier this month. The presentation, Talbot’s third, outlined the threats to downtown Sidney’s commercial viability in the face of proposed large retail developments in Central and North Saanich — and step to take to retain and attract customers. Steve Duck of the TIDES Group, facilitator of the April 9 presentation, says residents and business owners alike hope to see results from task force meetings.

The task force, created by Mayor Larry Cross, met for the first time April 24 to outline its direction.

“I anticipate this to be a community-based watchdog,” Duck said, “to make sure something comes out of the task force, especially with a united front.”

Duck has been working closely with the Sidney Tourism Improvement Group (STIG) which has lobbied the Town for changes to the traffic flow on Beacon Avenue and local tourist signage. With traffic off the table for the task force, Duck said he hopes it looks at the bigger picture of downtown Sidney and doesn’t disregard any ideas that come forward.

“Jesken and Sandown will come,” Duck said of the two commercial projects in the works. “They will bring people to this area. Along with what the Sidney Business Improvement Group is doing, there will be three groups marketing the Peninsula, hoping to attract people to come here.”

Duck said he hopes the task force, which does not include any representatives from STIG or SOS, brings people together — including local experts — on this common ground.

“The task force needs the opportunity to do a good job. They also need to engage the public right from the start, not at the end.”

In the end, any suggestions the task force amass will require the political will to make them happen.

“We shouldn’t fear Sandown or Jesken. We should fear ourselves. We are responsible for our own successes or failures.”

Duck said the SOS working group will host another presentation on May 7. Talbot, who remains involved with SOS, said the plan is to hold monthly meetings to review the “output and direction of the Dickinson Task Force” — in reference to its chair, Mark Dickinson. In an email to the PNR, Talbot said the guest speaker at its May 7 meeting will be Jan Egil Gulbrandsen. He is a Norwegian entrepreneur, co-founder of the Europris chain of general merchandise stores. He is set to talk about lessons learned from operating small stores and strategies to revitalizing downtown Sidney.

The presentation will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Mary Winspear Centre.