It’s taken time to wend its way to Shire Hall but the municipality will move forward on a downtown revitalization initiative that will see action plans designated for five communities in Prince Edward County.
The Downtown Revitalization Project (DRP) is a joint venture between The County of Prince Edward and the downtown communities of Picton, Bloomfield, Wellington, Consecon and Rossmore. It was initiated by the community development department in 2015 and funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs.
Downtown revitalization is the process of improving the economic, physical and social well-being of a community’s traditional town centre by: Strengthening local business and encouraging investment; Creating enjoyable public streets and spaces animated by a variety of creative and civic activities; and Providing work and living opportunities that respond to people’s needs across a spectrum of ages and interests
Director of community development and strategic initiatives Neil Carbone explained Thursday the genesis of DRP was derived from the County’s 2015 strategic plan and identified a series of needs in each community that could all be addressed through a such a program.
The DRP project has resulted in five downtown revitalization strategic action plans for the participating communities and a single overarching county-wide downtown revitalization strategy that can be applied to other hamlets and villages of Prince Edward County.
Façade and streetscape guidelines and wayfinding guidelines were also completed as part of the project.
The director explained the goal of the DRP was to ultimately set strategic priorities and glean concepts that are realistic and achievable.
“The DRP is intended to guide and encourage local involvement in downtown revitalization activities,” Carbone said. “These are not just the responsibility of the municipality, they’re not just the responsibility of a business association. There are a lot of stakeholders who understand they need to be a part of these activities.”
While the committee ultimately approved the motion that will still need to be ratified at the Nov. 13 council meeting, the plan received support from the audience on Thursday as a number of officials from connected organizations championed the plan.
Karen Fisher of OMAFRA said the project was unique from the Ministry’s perspective as this was the first regional DRP involving multiple communities.
In the past, OMAFRA have typically supported DRP’s that are single community projects.
“This was a really big, brave and bold project that was being undertaken in our mind and we have supported the project all the way through,”Fisher told the Committee.
Fisher added one of the beautiful things about this project is that each community wanted to maintain it’s unique identification while finding ways to work together.
“Kudos to the County and the staff for their leadership in this process,” Fisher said.
Sarah Doiron offered the Picton Business Improvement Association’s support of the plan.
The manager of the local BIA told the Committee the plan has already seen in the completion of some “fantastic initiatives,” including the improvements at Benson Park including the public washroom build to which the BIA contributed $25,000.
The BIA expects the new facilities will allow the park to be a future setting for larger public gatherings and events.
“Benson Park is a beautiful, welcoming space that is already being well-used by community members since its completion this summer,” Doiron said. “We have some very exciting future plans for public events in Benson Park in 2019 and beyond.”
The manager added there are a number of initiatives underway in Picton that will improve the identification of connecting links and make it easier for visitors to navigate the downtown area.
As well, there was work planned to make Picton more cyclist friendly through the installation of more bike racks.
Evan Nash, president of the Wellington and District Business Association likened the proposal to a lob ball and asked the committee to go ahead and “hit it out of the park”
“This is a really great proposal,” Nash said, adding there were a number of bandaid solutions going in various communities and measures that aren’t working in regards to “getting villages and towns on track and steering them in the direction our community.”
What impressed Nash the most in the plan was that there were boots on the ground in each of the five communities conducting surveys, engaging stakeholders and gathering valuable information.
And while the development of this project was funded with municipal dollars and provincial grants, it was volunteer investment of time that made the plan authentic.
Toby Toth of the Consecon Business Association (which Toth described as a loose gaggle of business owners that meet and try to address challenges) added her support and said rumblings over concerns of specific details in the report were unfounded
“The conversation has been more then open with numerous stakeholders engaged throughout the process, Toth said. “We are looking forward to a post amalgamation solution and a way to unify the towns and villages of the county while still maintaining the unique voices of each settlement.”
Ultimately, staff will designate the priority of projects in the various communities and sourcing Capital funding for each measure is expected to be a part of the annual budgeting process.