Sidney’s task force on downtown revitalization has issued 16 recommendations to town council but a citizen’s watchdog group says there are few direct benefits on that list to help businesses along Beacon Avenue.
Mayor Larry Cross’s downtown revitalization task force compiled a list of 79 ideas and suggestions since its creation back in April of this year. Cross said he was looking to the task force members to come up with ideas that the Town could implement right away.
A staff report says those items were ranked based on whether they could be put in place immediately, or if they were simply not feasible. They were also ranked on level of importance and the 16 with the best rank were advanced to Monday’s council meeting.
The recommendations fall into categories such as signage, financial and development policies and miscellaneous. Of the 16, six are already in place or being acted upon by the Town and many of the other recommendations — including business tax relief — were carefully worded to allow council to consider the impact on their bottom line.
“I don’t want to approve this,” said Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey Monday night at a regular council meeting. “There are tax implications involved and it all needs more discussion.”
“Why should the people of Sidney support businesses that are going to fail?” he asked regarding his concern that empty storefronts were brought about by bad business planning and that any reduction in business taxes would hit the Town’s resident tax base.
Lougher-Goodey called the task force report “a mixed bag.”
Coun. Tim Chad also opposed a carte blanche approval of the task force report, saying its recommendations need more public exposure.
Cross said the recommendations were carefully worded.
“It says we will consider it,” he said. “It doesn’t say we’re going to do it.”
He said later, however, that the Town” is looking to do as much as we can, as quickly as we can.”
In an interview, Cross agreed the report could be interpreted as an election-year document that highlights council’s accomplishments.
“Yes. And it is a work in progress. It represents hard work by smart business people and the support of the Town to address serious competition. There are no other guys doing this.”
Richard Talbot, spokesperson for Save Our Sidney (SOS), a citizen and business owner watchdog group with a specific focus on the downtown core, gives the report a C-minus.
“It’s better than nothing,” he says. “We need to see what the Town will do. The only thing done is the $150,000 they spent on new street furniture.”
One of the 16 recommendations is for more street furniture.
Talbot, a retail consultant who had come up with his own list of 10 recommendations, agrees with the task force’s assertion that better signage is needed to direct people into Sidney. He also agrees that financial policy changes are good ideas — but noted they are all in the ‘maybe’ category.
“The issue for (council) is, in an election year, do they want to put up residential tax rates?”
For most of the task force recommendations, Talbot said he sees little impact on downtown businesses with a lack of significant consultation with businesses on any of them. He added SOS feels the biggest issue is turning Beacon Avenue into a full, two-way street — an issue not even on the task force’s radar.
Cross added an ongoing survey of businesses and property owners in the downtown could have an impact on the task force recommendations and even provide new ideas. That survey is currently under way, following the completion of a shoppers survey that collected around 800 responses over the last couple of weeks. Cross said the data collected will give the Town and business groups information for the future and for long-term planning.
A council majority supported the task force recommendations, citing the cautious wording of the report. Chief Administrative Officer Randy Humble added some of the issues will require clear direction from council on how staff should proceed, followed by additional resolutions to put the recommendations into motion.
“I see no reason to hold up the Mayor’s Task Force unnecessarily,” said Coun. Steve Price, noting staff outline the need for more study on some items in the report.
“We need to give staff clear direction for proceeding,” Price said. “ There are no tax increases, so there’s no reason to hold this up.”
Council, in a 5-2 vote, approved the 16 recommendations for implementation.
1. Improve gateway signage
2. Add directional signage on Ocean Avenue
3. Create way finding signage in the downtown
4. Put up information kiosks
5. Consider lowering business tax rates
6. Come up with new tax rate and lease rate financial models
7. Consider options for business license fees
8. Increase residential density to support business
9. Provide additional encouragement to develop properties
10. Create a special RV parking area
11. Refresh downtown street line painting
12. Address issues with Port Sidney Marina
13. Embrace youth culture at the skateboard park
14. Develop a streetscape troubleshooting guide
15. Conduct a pedestrian traffic study on Beacon Ave.
16. Add more waterfront walkway improvements (additional street furniture)