As Ontario transitions through the Framework for Reopening Our Province, downtowns and main street areas are required to operate in different ways than they have in the past. On June 1, 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs facilitated an online Community of Practice event to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with the reopening of downtowns. Speakers Stephannie Schlichter, Director of Economic and Creative Development of the City of Barrie, Noella Rinaldo, Executive Director of the Downtown Timmins Business Improvement Area, and Kay Matthews, Executive Director of the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA), provided their input on some of the methods and techniques that their municipalities have introduced to support the reopening of downtowns.
A few key ways were identified as quick, high-impact tasks that municipalities can implement in downtowns to attract residents and boost their economic recovery:
1. Collaborate with stakeholders. When discussing your community’s economic development recovery plan, invite Business Improvement Areas (BIAs), industry members, and other key partners into provide their input and resources on the proposed projects. Meeting on a frequent basis will help keep stakeholders informed on the progress, discuss challenges and opportunities, and most importantly, keep the reopening of downtowns top of mind.
2. Facilitate a curbside program. These programs prevent large crowds from having to wait outside of restaurants and businesses for long periods of time. Curbside programs encourage residents to visit their downtowns and support local businesses while encouraging quick turnaround of curbside spots used for pickups. The City of Barrie has implemented an initiative that has transitioned their roadside parking in the downtown from a meter-long stay or two-hour parking zone to a loading zone that allows for only ten minutes of parking.
3. Animating streets. Establish quick and easy methods to visually improve the area. Cleaning up vacant storefronts, removing last season’s banners and decorations, and maintaining regular plantings will help downtown areas be more visually appealing, even with streets functioning much differently than they would normally be. Further, think outside of the box and be creative with the open signs and physical distancing stickers placed outside of businesses. Using branded floor distancing stickers helps to ensure that health protocols are being met while still promoting the downtown.
4. Pedestrianizing streets. Introducing patios and street closures will encourage residents to visit downtown areas. The Downtown Timmins BIA has developed a pop-up patio project in which temporary patios are provided to businesses at no cost and are placed in the roadside parking spots. This closes off the streets to pedestrians and helps the area appear livelier.
5. Stay engaged with your community through online platforms. Use your community’s social media platforms to share positive stories and helpful resources. This will spread messaging that downtown areas are alive and need help from local residents for their businesses to continue to thrive.
Downtown and main street areas are the heart of communities; thus, it is crucial to implement innovative and creative ways to support their reopening. To view a recording of the session, click here.
Access the City of Barrie’s Business Response Action Plan: https://www.barrie.ca/Doing%20Business/Business-Development/Documents/COVID-19-Business-Response-Action-Plan.pdf
Learn more about the different initiatives being launched in Downtown Timmins: https://www.timminschamber.on.ca/support.html
Visit the OBIAA webpage to learn more about its efforts in supporting BIAs across Ontario: https://obiaa.com/
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