Making the business hubs work; Aldershot seems to have developed an integrated approach; how is Brant Street doing?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  February 10, 2011  – What is it that brings about economic growth in a community?  How can the strides that are taking place along Plains Road in Aldershot be grafted onto the downtown core?

The Plains Road Village Vision Group (PRVV) have shown that when people in the community want change to take place – it happens.  When Shoppers Drug Mart opened their location on Plains Road they had planned on using their template for the store.  Shoppers has a way of doing things and they planned to follow the formula..

Plains Road - no longer just the highway to Hamilton but now a Main Street in a part of the city with an identity of its own

Not so fast said members of the community.  We’d like to see the orientation of the store more towards the street and not the parking lot you’re putting in – and while you’re at it – we want you to place one of the benches we’ve created close to the front of the store.  And the door should be placed facing the street.

The bench is in place; the greenery at the front of the location is pretty consistent with the rest of the street and there is a door that faces the street – but it’s kept locked – you can’t use it.  Which underlines the phrase – you can’t win every time.  But the Plains Road Village Vision win often enough and a road that was once the main route through to Hamilton has become a street that is a little slower when it comes to traffic and is certainly much nicer to walk along.  There are shops and restaurants and new projects are announced almost monthly.  The shovels go into the ground whereas in downtown Burlington a project is announced and that’s about it.

The Ontario Municipal Board recently gave a developer additional height at the James – Brant intersection, which made him happy but the same developer has a major project past the approval stage for John Street.  No shovels in the ground there yet.

The PRVV people have done such a good job on their end of things that the local Business Improvement Association has made the PRVV a formal subcommittee of the BIA. “In my view” said Ward Council member Rick Craven, “this initiative will strengthen both groups and serve the interests of Aldershot very well”.

Looks very cosmopolitan - and it is. But property taxes take a big chunk out of the revenue.

Meanwhile the downtown Burlington merchants struggle attracting traffic and making Brant Street vibrant.  Downtown rents are a killer for those who don’t own their buildings and taxes, up significantly due in some measure to the high rise condos that have been built, don’t allow these business people to see the profits they need to grow.

That cup of coffee on Brant Street is the same price as that cup of coffee on Plains Road but the tax portion of the rent on Brant is a lot higher than it is on Plains Road

Much to the chagrin of the Brant Street merchants, as well as their colleagues on the streets east and west of Brant, the condos brought tax increases but didn’t do much in the way of directing traffic to their doors.

All that hustle and bustle at Spencer Smith Park during the Sound of Music and RibFest doesn’t drive much traffic up Brant Street either.

While the people in Aldershot seem to have a grip on what their issues are and are working together to make the best of what they do have – Downtown can’t seem to make things work for them.  During the Christmas Season at least two well-known restaurants did nothing to dress up their street scape.  There wasn’t much of a “festiveness” on the street while the Village Square made their location look inviting at least.

Retail and hospitality are a grind – it isn’t easy to stay fresh, be seen as “the place” to get to and have fun or enjoy a meal.  When retail is good – it’s great – it’s just isn’t all that good much of the time.

Are there lessons for the Burlington Downtown Business Association with what Aldershot’s BIA is doing?  Might be worth looking into.  Is there an equivalent to the Plains Road Village Vision representing the downtown merchants?  That too might be worth looking into.

And does anyone have any thoughts on what the Festival of Lights will be doing for sponsorship next winter?  And if anyone happens to know where those reindeer wandered off to – give the Festival of Lights folks a call.



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