The Renfrew BIA pays for repairs of broken trees and protective coverings, such as these, in the downtown core. Ron Berube and a kneeling Vince Pallen complete this job on Raglan Street.
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
Renfrew Business Improvement Area (BIA) members are hoping a bigger board of directors and initiatives pay dividends in 2012 and beyond.
One initiative is already in the works, with removal of parking meters in the fall expected to help increase the number of downtown shoppers, says Renfrew BIA chairman Lisa Vincent of Keeping Company.
The BIA has also cut financial corners, recently, to help them reach some of their goals, while the annual levy from its 150 or so members is up for the first time in several years, from $60,000 to $65,000. That levy comes from a portion of business taxes of downtown landowners.
What hasn’t changed, says Vincent, are two ongoing BIA goals — downtown beautification, and the promotion, marketing and maintenance of downtown Renfrew.
A third goal has become a bit more prominent in recent years, with a focus on supporting other community organizations, such as the recent Hog Wild Pork Festival and December’s Lions Club Santa Claus Parade.
Revenue generation is also among the BIA’s activities, which is partly done by keeping the downtown core attractive.
Board member Mel Blimkie of A Sense of Country, whose business celebrates its first anniversary in July, admits he was a bit in the dark about what the BIA did.
And if he is, he says non-business owners in town probably were too.
Like many residents, he says he assumed much of the maintenance downtown was done by the town. Not so, he learned.
The BIA’s annual budget goes toward tree trimming, liability insurance, the painting of benches and downtown lanterns, and the cost of tree lights, related hydro expenses, and seasonal banners.
Now the BIA also has to be more creative about how it looks after the downtown core, after ending a maintenance contract with Doug Holmes. He previously received about $3,000 during its summer-fall season for downtown maintenance and another $3,000 for the remainder of the year.
“This year we have been successful in getting a summer student grant from the provincial government. That will cover the watering and a number of maintenance issues,” said Vincent.
BANNERS FOUR SEASONS
Another ongoing expense is $700 each season to change flags.
There are five different seasonal banners, with the daisy banners in spring, Canadian flags for the summer, fall leaves for the autumn, and candy cane or snowflake banners for the winter.
Renfrew’s reputation for having one of the most attractive downtown cores in the province is, to some degree, due to such efforts over the last few decades.
“If you took away the BIA, this main street would be very, very boring,” says Bob Flynn, a BIA board member and owner of The Korner Hutch.
Other customer incentives include the successful move to have the town remove the parking meters for a 12-month test period.
“There are people who wouldn’t come downtown because of the parking.
“To some people, a dime is very important,” says Flynn, who calls downtown parking a persistent “thorn in our side” because people are conditioned to think they’re going to be nailed with the heavy parking fines seen in Ottawa.
“We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for shoppers to come downtown and to remove any barriers to business,” says Vincent.
Another BIA incentive is the creation of four major shopping-friendly promotional events. Two are already in place, with the spring’s downtown garage sale and December’s Rekindle the Spirit of Christmas campaign.
This year’s July 28 Festival of Family is the third, while plans are underway to create a special autumn event. The Festival of Family will include buskers, the Sharon & Bram Show, a sidewalk sale and other festival attractions for young and old.
What helps matters is that the BIA board has 11 members, compared to a number that has been as low as three in previous years.
The BIA also pays for Tammy Logan’s hours spent as secretary for the BIA.
“With that many people dedicated and energized, it’s going to make it easier to do what we’re doing.”
At the same time, 11 people can’t do everything, says Blimkie.
“Right now we have a great complement, but we’re looking for people who can help out with individual events.”
Another initiative in the works is a ‘thank-you-for-shopping-downtown’ campaign, which is expected to kick off in late June.
“When customers choose us over other retailers, it impacts our livelihood … so we want them to know they’re making a difference in our personal lives,” explains Vincent.