Economic development must be a priority, says BIA manager

Another successful year anticipated for Kincardine's downtown
Section: 
News

 

By Barb McKay

 

As 2018 gets underway, Kincardine’s business community and those responsible for promoting it are of one mind – economic development must be a top priority this year.

 

The Independent sat down last week with Kincardine BIA Downtown Development Manager Rick Clarke for an update on the state of the downtown and Kincardine’s economic environment. Clarke said 2017 was a positive year for local retailers and there are many good opportunities to come.

 

As the Bruce Power major component replacement project start date approaches, new companies and employees are moving into the community and the surrounding region. Kincardine is already seeing the benefits, but much more work and collaboration is needed in order to fully capitalize.

 

A business survey completed last year by Bruce Community Futures Development Corporation (Bruce CFDC), in partnership with the Municipality of Kincardine, Kincardine and District Chamber of Commerce and the Kincardine BIA, laid out a number of recommendations to the Municipality of Kincardine. The first recommendation is for the municipality to hire an economic development officer – something the BIA strongly supports.

 

“We are on the cusp of some major changes to our local business environment,” Clarke said. “It is happening as we speak and will only get bigger. We have to be well-positioned.”

 

New businesses, and not just Bruce Power partners, are setting up shop in Kincardine and a number of existing businesses are expanding and renovating.

 

“When people put money into their businesses and buildings it shows they have confidence,” Clarke said. “The town needs to prioritize economic development. Someone has to come in with boots on the ground.”

 

Preparing the business park at Highways 9 and 21 for development is also something Clarke views as necessary for the health of Kincardine’s business community and is something that is emphasized in the recent business survey.

 

“The highway development is important to the success of our downtown. We have to work collaboratively.”

 

Clarke said the downtown retailers can compete with big box stores and those businesses will keep people shopping in Kincardine.

 

“If it complements what we are doing downtown it is an important strategy. I’d like to see the Highways 9 and 21 land developed sooner than later.”

 

The effort to bring natural gas to Kincardine remains a priority, as well. It is one advantage that Saugeen Shores has to attract business, Clarke noted. Despite that, Kincardine’s downtown is thriving. Some businesses, including Jerome’s Flowers and Gifts and The Wee Scottish Shop, have closed their doors, but others have opened. Surf’s Up opened on Queen Street last year, as did Best Friend’s Bakery and The Playful Piper. Accents by Gordon’s moved into the former Coffee Culture location and Lorusso School of Dance will soon open in the space previously occupied by Jerome’s.

 

The Grey Matter Beer Company is nearing the end of its renovation project and expects to open by the end of winter. The Tartan Tusk Pub and Eatery will open in the Harbour Street Brasserie location this spring. Work on the old Aztec Theatre building is progressing and units could be ready for tenants by in a few months.

 

“I think we have a healthier downtown that you will see in neighbouring communities,” Clarke said. “We have hardworking retailers who bring in quality products.”

 

There are certain types of businesses the BIA would like to attract to Kincardine’s downtown – particularly a men’s clothing store and restaurants.

 

“We definitely need more dining options,” Clarke said. “It will benefit our existing restaurants. People need options if you to get them in the habit of going out.”

 

The challenge currently facing Kincardine’s downtown is the lack of available retail space. It’s not necessarily a bad problem to have, but it is difficult to find appropriate space for new businesses and entrepreneurs who are seeking it.

 

“If I could wish for anything in 2018 it would be for a commercial developer to come in and buy up some of the vacant development space,” Clarke said. “We don’t have available quality retail space. We have little shoeboxes.”

 

Currently, some of the downtown’s prime retail space is being used as office space by companies that are part of Bruce Power’s supply chain. Clarke said that Bruce Power made it clear to its partners that they had to have a local presence and companies have limited options for office space. While there is some benefit to having companies operate downtown because they frequent local eateries and shops during the day, having too many can take away opportunities for prospective retailers.

 

“A little bit of office rental downtown isn’t a problem but you do not want your prime real estate given over to desks and chairs,” he said. He is hopeful that businesses will be encouraged to locate outside of the downtown.

 

This year is expected to be a busy year for downtown businesses, with events and festivals, including the Kincardine Reunion, scheduled for virtually every weekend throughout the summer. Clarke said it would be nice if the downtown offered more opportunities for nightlife with businesses offering extended hours to bring people downtown, whether it’s for a cold drink from Bean’s Bistro or DQ to watch the sunset at Queen’s Lookout or to go shopping after work.

 

Likewise, Clarke said he hopes the community will continue to support the downtown this year.

 

“We like to remind people that we are your neighbours. If you want something give us a chance to meet that need before you get in the car and drive out of town.”