John Clement, the outgoing president of the Downtown Perth BIA, takes a pause from work in his Gore Street East office.
John Clement, the longtime chair of Perth’s downtown business improvement area (BIA) has stepped down.
Clement informed the BIA board that his resignation was effective Nov. 1, but that he would stay on for three months, until a suitable replacement had been found.
While the idea to move on had been on his mind for some time, a recent visit to Spain provided a chance for him to really think things over and make some decisions about his future.
“I was able to have time to think it over and it was time,” said Clement during an interview at his office within The Perth Courier offices on Gore Street. “You need new blood and new ideas and concepts. I was getting tired… (But) I’ll miss it.”
Clement, the former publisher of The Perth Courier, said that, to the best of his recollection, he has led the BIA for roughly 20 years, and helped organize and found the BIA back in the 1979-81 period.
In the early 1990s, after a break from the BIA, Clement remembered that Harry Hale of the Mill Store came in to ask him to rejoin the BIA board, and “then, in the next breath, he asked if I’d be the chair. I’d been involved in the town for years. It wasn’t something that was difficult to do.”
Clement was publisher of The Perth Courier until 2006 when he sold the paper to Metroland Media. While running a newspaper is difficult enough, “there were times when it was definitely hectic,” to juggle his day job with BIA duties and his other volunteering.
“One of the things that made it easier to do was that I had a good staff,” at the paper, he recalled.
Looking back to the time before the BIA was founded, he remembered that events like winter carnivals and summer festivals were funded not by BIA levies, but through the support of local businesses and others.
“We had to go and beg from different merchants and that was difficult,” he remembered. Now, with the BIA, the business group can help bring about beautification projects and help to promote the downtown.
“We changed all of the street lights on the main drag,” said Clement, from the old “goose neck” lights to the heritage-style lights, which cost thousands of dollars.
But it was the help of Heritage Canada’s “Small Town Main Street” program that helped bring the heritage back into “Heritage Perth.”
“They wanted to make Perth their small town,” after successful improvement projects in places like Quebec City and Halifax. He commended the work done by Heritage Canada’s John Stewart.
“He was a tremendous help to our BIA at the time,” said Clement. “I don’t think it would have been as successful without Heritage Canada.”
Another significant change Clement has seen over the years has been the erection of the Crystal Palace.
“It’s become an icon fro the downtown basin area,” he said of the former Rideau Street bus shelter from Ottawa. From 1974 to about 1989, the town “bought all of the property (surrounding what is now the Crystal Palace) and then wondered what they would do with it,” before settling on what has become a home to the farmers’ market, headquarters for various runs and fundraiser concerts and even the site of homecoming celebrations for Perth’s Olympic athletes in 2008 and 2012.
But the changes don’t end there.
“We’ve done a lot of beautifications,” he said, pointing to the banners which hang over Gore Street East, the trees that have been planted, and the hanging baskets off of the bridges, all of which, taken together, has made Perth the envy of many other communities.
“I think we have been an example to many communities, a leader,” said Clement. “People came to Perth and marveled and went back and spruced their communities up.”
Clement admitted that he does not know what his role will be in the future with the business community, but he said “we will see,” about remaining on as a director, though he is interested in keeping the downtown vital and alive, and he will continue to chair the community development committee.
One thing he would like to see improved is the Wilson Street parking lot reconstruction slated for 2016.
“It is in desperate need,” said Clement.
Another initiative he would like to see gain traction in 2013 would be to have a loan structure in place to allow landlords of older buildings to fix up their infrastructure through loans and special tax exemptions or deferrals.
“I was really concerned about these buildings because they are old and dilapidated and need repair,” said Clement.
In times past, when a business would make much-needed safety, fire and/or even façade or other aesthetic improvements, it would sometimes be counter-productive, because any gains would be offset by a jump in property taxes, something some municipalities are starting to realize. As such, these towns are phasing in these property assessment raises gradually, sometimes by as much as a decade-long period.
While Clement says he looks back on his time at the BIA with fondness, there are still a few lingering regrets to contend with.
“If there is one regret, if you could call it that, is that I was never able to get the total membership of 150 (together) as a collective force,” said Clement. For some members, they would simply pay the levy, “and that’s it.”
“I think that the membership has got to be less passive and more proactive,” he added. “They’ve got to step up and help. Money is always an issue but you can probably do more with people saying ‘What can I do? How can I help?’ Every business and landlord, they’ve got to not just pay their taxes; they’ve got to go that extra step.”
Another perception he wants to change about the BIA is that it is for owners and upper management only.
“It’s not just management,” said Clement. “Employees can get involved too.”