President Martin Alderwick opened today’s meeting at 9:55 am with 34 members in attendance. He welcomed today’s presenter, Marty Williams, CEO of Downtown Guelph Business Association.
President Alderwick commented on the great Grand River Boat cruise that a number of members and their wives went on yesterday. The weather was splendid and a good time was had by all. He asked members to provide feedback on the Club activities to the members on the Activities Committee.
Announcements Activities – Ray Biffis - Thank you to David Wallace for organizing and arranging the Grand River Boat cruise. - Monday next, (Sept. 24th) is the night at the Elora Horse Races; There are 27 paid registrants and doors open at 5:30 pm with the meal being served at 6:00 pm. - Christmas Party is scheduled for December 6th, 2018 at Victoria East Golf and Country Club; - Remembrance Day is ceremony is planned for November 11th at the Sleeman Centre;
Coffee Club -- Andy Curtis - next Thursday at10:00 am at the Boathouse
Presentation: John Sneyd introduced the speaker, Marty Williams by saying that Marty must have a good sense of humour because he was the original party candidate for the official Rhinoceros Party of Canada.
Marty Williams has been the Executive Director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association (DGBA) since May 2011. He spent most of his adult life working in Student Services with a wide variety of positions at the University of Guelph, University of Toronto, and York University. The Guelph Downtown Board of Management oversees the Downtown Guelph Business Association. His topic will be: Guelph: Downtown Renewal Plans and Current Issues. This will be an opportunity to find out about the Downtown planning as well as asking pertinent questions about downtown issues, current and future.
Marty Williams He began his presentation by saying he learned a lot of things by running for the Rhinoceros Party but mostly that he was glad that he didn’t win. There were many other good candidates running that year.
Marty’s grandparents came to Guelph in 1922 with Marty’s dad who was one year old at the time. His dad grew up in Guelph as did Marty who went to GCVI. He went to University of Guelph and after a couple of stints in Toronto he decided to live in Guelph.
Marty said that part of his job is to be a cheerleader for Guelph and he likes to focus on the positives.
There are 8000 full time workers in Guelph downtown. Many people think of downtown Guelph as strictly bricks and mortar businesses and restaurants at street level. But behind that there are many businesses and if downtown Guelph was a single employer, it would be the second largest employer in the City. The Baker District development is now getting some traction with the new library that’s about to be built. Downtown which has always been a major contributor of commercial activity is poised to become an even greater contributor.
There are many challenges that many retail businesses face all across Canada such as the closing of the Sears store in the Stone Road Mall. There are challenges such as online shopping but we can’t turn back the hands of time. The way we respond to that in the retail sense is to provide things that you can’t get elsewhere like unique offerings, vision and service level, and great restaurants. You don’t talk about downtown Guelph in isolation. You talk about it as a piece of the puzzle and as a contributor to Guelph as a driver of jobs and prosperity.
What makes downtown Guelph, Guelph? Marty thinks of it as a civic space. It is public space unlike properties that big box stores sit on. Everybody in the downtown has the right to use the space. It’s also a celebration of space. When people want to celebrate a community, they go to the downtown of that community. It’s also an incubation space for entrepreneurs in retail and food. For instance, if you wanted to start a small fashion store, you would never be able to get into a big mall with big box stores. What you have in downtown Guelph is the opportunity to try something out. Iconic brands like Lulu Lemon started out this way. It is the location of most public services, the center of most public transportation like City buses and regional buses, train systems like Via and Go trains.
Downtown Guelph is unique in that it has its own unique Guelph history. When companies are looking for a place to come to, to bring employees to, they want to know that we are a city that takes pride in our history and has something that no other place has. Marty talked about the history and restoration of the some of the old buildings in downtown Guelph such as the Petrie Building built in 1822. He also talked about the Ackers Building and the Western Hotel which is a gorgeous building and every room inside is a suite. Investors have spent millions of dollars on restoring old and “tired” buildings because they believe in downtown Guelph. The Gummer building was renovated after a fire which is now a full office building with a restaurant in the main floor.
There are new things going on. There are the Tricar condos: River House and River Mill; and the Grand Works Development. So people are moving into downtown Guelph. Old restaurants are being re-imagined. There are very few vacancies compared to other downtowns.
We are positioning ourselves as a music city with the weekend music series and we sponsored some forty music events last year.
What is the role of the DGBA? We are the business improvement area (BIA). The first BIA was created in Toronto in the Bloor West Business Area in 1970. The idea was to have a geographically defined area where commercial properties would pay an additional levy on top of their property taxes to invest into the public realm to collectively buy benches and flowers, sweep the streets etc. etc. to make an area pleasant. There are 300 BIA’s in Ontario. Traditionally they have been historic commercial business districts. They all have the same mandate: to beautify, to attract people through promotions and events, and to advocate for better conditions for the downtown. Marty’s job is to go before City Council on a regular basis to talk about public parking, and to talk about public investment in the downtown.
What are the most pressing issues in downtown Guelph? Waste management is a challenge. The waste management bins that are outside on sidewalks are a bit of an eye-sore but the recycling aspect of collected waste and litter is better than the old method of just putting garbage out in green plastic bags at the end of the day. This is an esthetic issue as well but the bins deal with both commercial waste as well as street litter. Sidewalks that are not quite perfectly even have to be painted yellow where there is a height difference but this is a provincially legislated requirement and the City has to make a much “visual noise” as they can.
Construction disruptions in the downtown environment is always tough and this is hard on businesses. Parking is continually an issue but after 40 years there is now going to be a net increase in parking inventory when the Wilson Street parkade opens. However, this will be nullified to some extent when the Baker Street development happens and 600 parking spaces came out of commission at the same time as the Baker Street construction starts. The Baker Street development and parking garage will take about seven years to complete. There is also a proposal to build a 200 space parking garage at the top of Commercial Street.
The opioid crisis is happening all over the country and Guelph is no different. Everywhere cities are asking: “What are we going to do?” It is not just a downtown issue anymore. Addiction, poverty and mental health playout in the public realm. Outside of downtown it usually happens on private property but downtown it is in the public realm. What Guelph has done, recognizing that there is a crisis in every city, is to work with the Guelph Police Service and all the social service agencies and churches, and the Community Health Centre and we has created what we call “The Welcoming Streets Initiative.” We have hired a person (Wendy) to be the connector between people experiencing poverty, addiction and mental health and the businesses downtown. We are trying to increase education between people “having a bad day” and the services that are available. Having Wendy is not a permanent solution but is a temporary help. What is required is more on-the-street uniformed police officers. And statistically speaking, Guelph is as safe or safer than any other downtown city.
The plan for the new Baker Street development is to have a new library, a Conestoga College campus, a YMCA, and 300 hundred condo units on top with 1000 parking spots underneath to support the new public parking inventory. This development will be institutional, educational and recreational. Conestoga College campus won’t need its own library because there will be one right there. All these services will be integrated. This is the last piece of land available for development in the downtown core and it has to be the jewel in the crown for downtown if it is done right.
As a final thought, Marty Williams added that when he was a kid and watched the Blue Jays on TV win the World Series, everyone wanted to celebrate and what they did was go downtown because that’s where everyone else went. That was where people spontaneously collected to celebrate as a city. This shows how vital the downtown is to a community.
Mr. Williams finished his presentation by responding to questions from the membership.
Julian Sale thanked Mr. Williams and gave a token of appreciation from the Club to the Children’s Foundation Guelph Wellington at Mr. Williams request.
Next meeting is on October 4, 2018 with Katie Taylor speaking on Circle of Friends in Kitchener.