Business owners and managers in Grand Forks gathered to discuss the formation of a downtown business association on Tuesday.
Carole Lajoie, owner of Value Drug Mart, acted as a moderator to facilitate discussion on the future of downtown Grand Forks and what direction the group would like to head.
“The thing that became clear was that we really needed a downtown association and a group that is focused on what goes on in downtown Grand Forks,” she said. “We started by defining what we felt was downtown Grand Forks. At (an earlier) meeting, we also discussed what issues we’d like to address and the number of issues was that we needed Grand Forks to look better and appealing for people who come into town.”
The defined area is from 72nd Avenue to 75th Avenue, from Riverside Drive over to 5th Street, with a small portion of Central Avenue to 6th Street.
“We want to put together a core group of people who would be interested in being on a board or advisory capacity,” Lajoie pointed out. “We’re starting this as a volunteer downtown business association.”
Lajoie explained that she attended a meeting hosted by the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) last August.
“The EDAC brought in Barb Haynes from the Penticton Business Improvement Association to speak to merchants who had businesses downtown and to talk about what they are doing in Penticton because they have an active group of businesses,” she explained. “There wasn’t a lot of people there but the group of us that were there, and were motivated by what we heard, got together in September to talk about what we wanted to see in Grand Forks.”
There were two meetings that followed the Haynes forum, but Lajoie noted it was apparent in the second meeting that the group had to do a better job at communicating with the businesses downtown.
“This downtown business association will create a vision and in my mind, that vision is going to be on how will we improve our downtown core,” Lajoie went on to say. “We want a group that is specifically focused on issues that affect us downtown. That’s our mandate. I’d love to see the day when downtown Grand Forks is a happening place and people want to come downtown because Grand Forks is a really cool little community with lots of neat businesses, and services, and interesting things going on.”
Lajoie noted ideas and brainstorming were required to form a communication plan, followed by a budget plan through a board, before everything will be discussed with the main group.
Some questions were raised as to why the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce (BCRCC) had not been taking charge of creating the group, though they have been assisting with the formation of the association.
BCRCC executive director Sarah Winton clarified the BCRCC is a regional chamber that is focused on a larger area.
“The reason it’s not the City of Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce is because it’s not financially viable. We have a small community and population base and that membership numbers do not support a chamber of commerce,” Winton explained. “It’s regionally based because we have larger numbers and theoretically a larger membership base that will support a chamber.”
Winton pointed out the chamber’s mandate is to work regionally but they can provide support services and resources.
“We can help facilitate meetings such as this to bring people together, but (the BCRCC’s) focus needs to be on regional initiatives and projects,” she said.
The City of Grand Forks’ chief administrative officer (CAO) Doug Allin explained the city is working on its strategic plan, including the downtown rejuvenation plan, to see what the city can bring forward.
“We’re currently working on a budgetary program,” he said. “But the council would like to meet with the business association to talk about what these plans will look like.”
When Allin arrived from Peachland to assume the CAO position, he noticed there were several services the city was lacking, including graffiti removal.
“Upon talking to council, it has been suggested there be an ability (to provide) a can of paint or using restorative justice to clean up the buildings,” he added. “Another initiative city council is discussing is suggesting a bunch of options so we can get our house in order downtown. We have a responsibility to the community in regards to garbage cans, light poles and fibre optic pieces. We’re bringing forward a menu of business items to city council but we would also look at it through the business perspective. That will give this group a foundation to work on.”
Allin noted some ideas suggested include finalizing the fibre optics business plan to draw businesses downtown and working on the tax exemption bylaw.
“It’s about how can we provide some opportunities for businesses downtown to improve that won’t cost them,” he concluded. “What we’d like is to bring forward for the group to pick, and not the staff and council picking it. It would be you guys coming up with a consensus of what you would like to do to.”
During the meeting, a board and advisory group were created to discuss further options.
The next meeting is planned for sometime in January or early February.