© Guardian photo
Coun. Rob Lantz, chair of Charlottetown’s planning committee, says the Charlottetown Area Development Corporation should give thought to purchasing the old gas station properties on prominent corners of the city's downtown.
Charlottetown does a splendid job of embracing its past but needs to do a better job of building on its future.
That was one of the more significant observations on Wednesday as the Canadian Urban Institute and International Downtown Association (IDA) unveiled the ‘Value of Downtowns Report’ in Charlottetown.
The report is designed to illustrate the growth, revitalization and performance of 17 of Canada’s largest downtown areas. Experts, essentially, assessed changes in attitudes, perceptions, functionality and performance over time.
One point was crystal clear. Investing in downtown areas is necessary to the prosperity of the country.
“I think Charlottetown has a lot that it’s doing right,’’ Glenn Miller, vice-president of education and research for the Canadian Urban Institute, told The Guardian in an interview.
“It’s making good use of its heritage assets and there seems to be a strong sense of collaboration among different sectors. That’s really important and it’s one of the things that we picked up on in looking at 17 cities across the country.’’
The report praised the city’s heritage incentive program which offers incentives for the development, restoration and/or maintenance of heritage properties. This includes façade improvements, freezes on property taxes, elimination of building permit fees and a series of awards for contributions to the heritage of the city.
Downtown Charlottetown Inc. (DCI) also offers financial assistance to commercial property owners within the downtown boundary for façade improvements.
Miller noted that the downtown needs to do a better job of enticing people to live there.
“I think there’s some momentum on the residential side but as the residential population downtown increases you’ll be able to get some critical mass with things like grocery stores. (That will) make it easier for people to make the decision to move downtown. You need a critical mass.’’
Paul MacKinnon, chairman of the IDA’s Canadian issues task force and executive director of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, said the information proves useful in that it compares data and metrics so everyone can see what they are doing right and what they’re doing wrong and how it compares with other cities.
“We wanted to establish some benchmarks,’’ MacKinnon said. “It’s stealing ideas from other cities.’’
He cited the percentage of office space downtowns have been able to maintain. Charlottetown is second to only London, Ont., in this category. Eighty per cent of office space in Charlottetown is located in the downtown core. Halifax came in last at 43 per cent.
“So what that set off for us was a few alarm bells,’’ MacKinnon said, referring to Halifax’s number.
In terms of job density, Charlottetown sits 14th out of 16 cities in the country that were part of the study.
Charlottetown’s downtown showed moderate movement in the population growth category. It grew four per cent between 2006-11 after stagnating between 2001 and 2006.
The report also shows that most of the municipal capital investment in Charlottetown’s downtown has been made in the infrastructure, utilities and transportation modes. There was some investment in development incentives and a very small amount in parks and open space.
MacKinnon also noted that Charlottetown’s downtown population isn’t growing at the pace it should be, especially with an ever-increasing aging population. He cited policy’s that have served Ottawa well, such as waiving development fees and expediting development.
Dawn Alan, executive director of DCI, said the study, which cost them $10,000, also points out the need for all three levels of government to work together.
The report did note concerns with the number of federal and provincial government jobs that have left the downtown core.
“It’s obvious we need more residents downtown,’’ Alan said. “Maybe not condos as much as the other segment of the population which would be nice apartments for young families that are affordable. That creates 24-7 business, which supports our retail and our restaurants and our commerce. That’s something we will probably work on next.’’