Some 50 residents and business owners have stepped up to take a more active role in the future of retail in Sidney’s downtown core.
A new group called Save Our Sidney (SOS) has formed under the direction of the Sidney Tourism Improvement Group (STIG) and Steve Duck of the TIDES Group. They held a forum April 9 (after News Review press deadlines) at the Mary Winspear Centre, featuring retail consultant Richard Talbot and local business owner Garry Froese.
Froese, owner of In Touch Cards and Gifts on Beacon Avenue, said Sidney finds itself under siege right now from proposed commercial developments in Central Saanich (Jesken Town Centre) and North Saanich (Sandown Commons).
“Vacancy rates are high and (the Town) has no long-range business plans — only beautification,” Froese said. “There are businesses in Sidney that do not have the wherewithal to hang on for two more years.”
That timeline is being touted by Talbot as the buffer between now and when the new commercial properties start to develop.
“Sidney isn’t seen as a destination shopping hub,” Froese continued. “We need to be able to attract people outside of the community … as well as hold on to our local customers.”
Froese outlined a series of actions he suggests the Town take — from improved parking and drop-off zones, to lower commercial taxes and uniform business hours.
Talbot, making his third public presentation on threats to local retail, said his hope is that the SOS group gets plenty of public support to back up the efforts of the recently-announced Mayor’s Task Force on Sidney’s downtown.
“As a professional in this field, it would be remiss of me not to do anything,” he said. “If nothing is done, Sidney might have to downsize its downtown, like Oak Bay or Ganges.”
Talbot said the SOS needs to support the task force and be prepared to hold it accountable — as well as keep the issue at the fore during this fall’s municipal election. He added a workshop will be held soon for the estimated 50 people who signed up to learn more through SOS.
Denis Paquette, head of STIG, said he’s looking forward to being involved with the Mayor’s Task Force. He continued, however, to advocate for two-way traffic along Beacon Avenue — something that Mayor Larry Cross has stated will not be on the table for this task force.