Great things are happening downtown, thanks to a team effort by many groups and individuals. It’s been a privilege to participate as councillor for the downtown. Here’s a snapshot of the work we’ve been doing together, and an overview of some of the long-term projects.
More events, free parking
This summer, Fit in the Core returns with free fitness classes in Civic Square at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Saturdays in the Square returns, bringing free music to our streets every Saturday on Elgin Street from 3-5:30 pm.
BDBA also participated in the “Shop the ’Hood” event sponsored by Yellow Pages to promote local shopping. Their innovative campaign, which asked residents to write on a chalkboard what they love about the downtown, won a $10,000 beautification award. Yellow Pages has sought BDBA’s advice for next year’s campaign. The BDBA also won an award from the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association for their humourous FreeP! campaign, promoting free parking in December and on Saturdays. The BDBA worked with the Downtown Parking Committee and City Hall to launch free parking in an effort to bring more feet on the street to our shops and services downtown, on weekends. The results of a survey of businesses and residents after the campaign found that free parking increased business by 10 per cent.
Attract office/educational uses, improve pedestrian connections and greenspace
Meanwhile, a City Hall team is working on implementing the 33 recommendations developed by the Downtown Task Group, which brought together the Burlington Downtown Business Association (BDBA), Burlington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC), Chamber of Commerce, Tourism Burlington, City staff and myself, to review the health of downtown and develop a set of recommended actions.
The task group recommendations around a renewed vision of the downtown as “an active waterfront downtown destination that showcases the cultural heart of Burlington,” include:
- • Attracting more employment and niche office uses downtown, including a review of the City’s land and parking lots as potential locations;
- Exploring opportunities to attract an educational institution to the downtown;
- Reviewing park dedication policies to add urban plazas, parks and open spaces as intensification occurs;
- Developing a retail attraction strategy;
- Exploring the feasibility of a year-round farmer’s market downtown;
- Adding smaller-scale, local festivals, events and cultural activities;
- Creating a cultural district downtown;
- Developing a pilot program for a seasonal road closure with programming;
- Waiving or reducing fees for the use of Civic Square and other downtown public spaces for small-scale events;
- Maintaining a high level of transit service to the downtown, which is identified by the Province as a mobility hub;
- Enhancing cycling linkages downtown, including extending the Centennial Bikeway with clear markings through the municipal parking lots; and
- Completing a pilot pedestrian priority program for downtown.
Bringing more jobs downtown
The Downtown Task Group identified office attraction as a priority for the downtown. City Council has approved the downtown as one of five hubs in the city for focused economic growth through the Burlington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC). Currently, downtown Burlington represents only one per cent of the city’s land area yet contributes four per cent of tax revenue. The BDBA is also working with the BEDC on a retail attraction strategy for downtown.
Promoting Village Square
Residents are passionate about Village Square, a unique historic pocket in our downtown that we all want to see thrive. When Village Square was put on the market for sale recently, City Council commissioned a review of three historic buildings in the Square, which concluded the buildings had heritage value (though they are not currently designated). Council also commissioned a report on the overall heritage character of the Square within the downtown context. That report will come to Council this spring.
Meanwhile, the BDBA, BEDC and my office are working together to promote retail or office use in the Square. One of the unique businesses in the Square is Burlington HIVE, a place people can “rent” a desk, meet others, and foster creative collaborations. The idea is to be a launching pad for new business ventures. Council recently directed staff to explore the concept of business “incubators” and bring some recommended options for council’s consideration during the 2015 budget discussions.
Why downtown matters:
Downtowns play a unique role; they are the heart of a city, and research consistently reports on the connection between a healthy downtown and a healthy city. Got an idea to make downtown better? Leave a comment below.