Retail threats debated by business owners

Sidney downtown task force still doesn’t have a leader

Retail planning consultant Richard Talbot delivers a presentation to Chamber of Commerce members on March 20.

Retail planning consultant Richard Talbot delivers a presentation to Chamber of Commerce members on March 20.

A gathering of some of Sidney’s business owners and operators seemed keen on the recommendations of a local retail planning consultant, yet no plan of action is in place to address what has been termed a coming tsunami of development.

Richard Talbot issued his warnings on March 20 about what two proposed commercial developments on the outskirts of Sidney might do to the fortunes of local businesses. Talbot made a similar presentation March 17 to town council. This time he was speaking to members of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, non-members, politicians and residents at the Mary Winspear Centre.

He is addressing what he sees as a threat to shops in downtown Sidney from large retail areas at Sandown Commons in North Saanich and Jesken Town Centre in Central Saanich. Both projects are at various stages of development and join other growth in Tsawassen on the mainland and even in Greater Victoria to have an impact on Sidney.

In both of his speeches, Talbot said if nothing is done to improve Sidney’s downtown and help it win and retain customers, outside development will intercept a significant percentage — in some case up to 50 per cent — of Sidney’s business.

“Don’t let the downtown go,” said Talbot. “It’s tough to get back the tenants and shoppers once they leave.”

Talbot’s comments were combined with his estimates on the value of retail sales in Sidney and how much of it new projects like Jesken and Sandown could draw off once completed. While Sidney could still have a net positive in overall sales, Talbot pointed out if business owners and the municipality act now to improve the downtown, their market share could be a lot higher.

“Are local merchants willing to give away half of their pie?” he asked.

Talbot is calling for a Save Beacon Avenue Task Force, ideally headed up by the mayor. It needed people with open minds, he continued, and support from groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Sidney Downtown Business Association (SBIA).

“We do have an opportunity here,” he said. “We have two years before the tsunami hits.”

Talbot was peppered with questions and comments on everything from Beacon’s one-way section of the street, to how the community can support change along the main drag.

“Are Sandown and Jesken even viable at this point?” asked one audience member.

Talbot said yes they are, adding there is some thought among the industry that Greater Victoria on the whole is under-retailed.

“There are customers out there.”

“How do we improve?” asked another.

Talbot suggested that there needs to be a theme for downtown, one that delivers on a promise made by signs directing traffic into town.

“We have been spoiled for 100 years,” Talbot said. “We haven’t had to compete.”

There were various suggestions and comments from the audience, including the need to bring residents on board with the idea of change as well. Yet there was little said about any follow through on Talbot’s presentation.

“Who is accountable here? How do we get action?” someone asked.

Talbot said whatever happens must be a team effort.

“In my vision, the mayor is a leading figure in the town. But there needs to be a partnership. Retail wins by staying in business and the town wins by maintaining its tax base.”

Town fires back

On Monday, March 24 the Town of Sidney sent out a press release highlighting concerns around Talbot’s presentations.

“The Town certainly has a role to play in achieving economic redevelopment and investment in our community, but we can’t do it alone; just like the business community can’t achieve it alone. To be clear, we are here to help and assist, but it must be through a concerted effort by all parties focused on the same goals and working collaboratively and respectfully as a group,” said Mayor Cross in the release.

The Town also touched on comments made by Talbot in respect to planting body parts on the sites in question to slow or stop development processes.

“While Mr. Talbot, likely made those comments in jest; the Town of Sidney cannot condone or support any actions that blatantly disrespect our First Nations neighbours. Any comments, irrespective of intent, that make light of or disrespect the burial practices of First Nations peoples, touches the fundamental, personal, cultural, religious and philosophical ideas and beliefs of an entire community and therefore cannot be tolerated.”

—News staff