By Stefano Grande
The pace of downtown revitalization is directly related to the opinions, beliefs, and knowledge of the mayor.
Whether you agree with this or not is a topic that’s ripe for a good conversation. But the reality is this: if the mayor of a city believes in the importance of the downtown creating a socially-inclusive, economically-rich and sustainable city, then great things will happen – and quickly. And organizations like the BIZ are tools for this change, to help mayor and council.
If a mayor is of a different mindset, then organizations like the BIZ take on a different role – influencers, advocates, capacity builders and educators.
This is why it’s important that the BIZ board has led the charge in meeting all of the mayoral candidates to have a discussion and find out: Who is in favour of downtown? Why? And what are the ideas and solutions?
Should panhandlers be banned from public spaces, or helped off the street in a comprehensive manner that includes assistance with social services and housing?
Should we wait for a full-line grocer, or create an innovative partnership with the private sector to stimulate more residential development?
Should there be adequate police foot patrols downtown regularly, or only when the events that draw suburbanites downtown are on?
Should a restaurant owner submit four different applications for a patio, or one? And should it take three months, or three weeks?
These and other questions are key to the future of our downtown over the next four years, if not more.
So it’s critical that organizations like the BIZ ensure all the mayoral candidates understand the issues and opportunities before they are elected, or at least ensure our members know what the future holds for the downtown and ready the organization to play its part in moving the yardsticks forward.
We are fortunate to be able to say that most of the mayoral candidates get it. Downtown is a priority.
They have seen the power of Tax Increment Financing (TIF); the results of more police foot patrols; and the role organizations like the BIZ and others can play in building our community. It’s about community building, through partnerships.
Over the last decade under the current mayor, I can tell you, cleanliness and safety have improved dramatically. Stats and surveys tell us this.
And on the development front, TIFs are a tool which will one day be recognized as the missing piece that really got the ball rolling to attract private investment – investment that helps create the density and vibrancy our members and citizens want. It’s impressive, no doubt.
But what if I said all of this could have been accomplished much sooner? And the return on public investment realized much earlier?
The day after this election, we will return to our office and yell, “Our person won!” No matter who wins, we are committed to the downtown and working with our mayor.
But it would be nice to have a mayor that realized that revitalization is not finished. We must continue, the pace must be quickened, and our leader must listen to the community and groups like the BIZ.
So we are meeting, and talking. Gauging, and influencing. Listening, and learning.
On Oct.22, you will have your chance to choose the mayor who can lead this change. Please come out. Imagine if 70,000 office workers, 16,000 residents, and tens of thousands of Winnipeggers voted for the mayor that’s right for the downtown.