Rachel Braithwaite – St. Catharines Downtown Association
TOPIC: St. Catharines Downtown Association challenges and successes
Executive Director remains upbeat about the future of our downtown
Duncan McLaren introduced guest speaker Rachel Braithwaite, Executive Director of St. Catharines Downtown Association and the Business Improvement Association.
Rachel used a video and Power Point slides to illustrate her presentation about how her organizations work in partnership with the city. She pointed out that Business Improvement Associations (BIAs) evolved in the 1960s in Toronto with the move from downtown to shopping malls. Rachel said that the Bloor West Village developed the first BIA in Canada and indeed the world in 1970. The idea of BIAs spread rapidly as the need for overall co-operation was recognized. There are now 300 BIAs in Ontario and 500 in Canada.
Rachel said that there are four pillars upon which BIAs operate: 1. Public realm investing; 2. Area brand marketing; 3. Policy and partnerships; 4. Events. She added that the focus for the past three years has been advocacy due to the toll on businesses caused by the COVID 19 pandemic.
She said that downtowns have much to offer. They are iconic and provide powerful symbols for a city and often contain the most iconic landmarks.
She said that the public realm investing involves spending money on downtown beautification. In St. Catharines that involved an investment of $75,000 in 2022. She added that another $25,000 was ear-marked for publicity on social media. She argued that one of the problems behind the perceived lack of parking in the downtown was the lack of publicity about the two parking garages near both the Performing Arts Centre and the Meridian Centre.
Rachel said the focus for 2023 will be on Downtown Premium from early June until October 1. Special events have proven their worth in attracting people to the downtown. This year a Spring Festival is being planned for April 22 and a Summer Festival is slated for July 15. The festivals aim to spotlight businesses with collaboration and community support.
During an extensive question and answer period, Rachel said that the trial period of blocking off part of St. Paul Street was met with opposition from merchants because those on the south side of the street have no other access for deliveries. She pointed out that part of James Street was converted to a pedestrian-only area and the BIA will be pushing for more patio areas this summer.
She admitted that the boarding up of a number of stores on St. Paul Street detracts from the look of the street and said the BIA is working on making improvements in that area while also pushing for lower special event parking fees.
Duncan thanked Rachel for her presentation and suggested her talk invited not only questions but a number of opinions. He presented her with a gift certificate in appreciation.