Owners of businesses and commercial property are being asked to help develop a revitalization strategy for downtown Sylvan Lake.
Many were recently surveyed about their needs, and ideas for boosting retail activity along the lakefront, and they are being encouraged to participate in a Nov. 20 workshop where the survey responses will be reviewed and a plan formulated.
“It’s the first time that the town has undertaken this kind of a polling of opinion and insights in the business district,” said Dean Clark, managing director of Calgary consulting firm Canadian Ventures Inc.
Canadian Ventures was hired by the Town of Sylvan Lake to direct the process, with the Sylvan Lake Chamber of Commerce playing an active role as well.
The town and chamber met with Sylvan Lake’s downtown business community in the spring to discuss concerns about the loss of shops and consumer traffic. Some measures were taken as a result, said chamber executive director Catherine Bais, such as relocating a couple of the town’s farmers market events to the downtown.
But it was felt that a more structured approach was needed, which led to the hiring of Canadian Ventures.
Matthew Cornall, Sylvan Lake’s economic development officer, said Clark brings expertise to the process and will also provide research related to the downtown’s situation.
In addition to the survey, which consisted of more than 30 questions on everything from challenges to ideas for change, Clark will have feedback from one-on-one interviews he conducted. He’ll discuss these at the workshop, and suggest actions individual businesses and property owners can take to improve their situations.
Clark also said that a goal will be to formulate a group strategy.
“We don’t want to presume what this group will look like — is it going to be a BRZ (business revitalization zone), is it going to be a downtown revitalization association, is it going to be a co-op? We don’t know.”
Cornall said it’s important that the affected businesses and property owners be the ones to drive change, rather than the town or chamber.
“The best way that they can help themselves is to come together as a group.”
He added, however, that the town and chamber will continue to provide whatever support they can.
Cornall said he’s anxious to see what comes out of the workshop.
“When you get a bunch of innovative, hard-working entrepreneurs around the room, feeding on each other’s energy, you’d be amazed at the ideas that pop up at that meeting and take hold.”
Sylvan Lake’s downtown has been hurt in recent years by the closure of several landmark businesses, including Cobbs AG Foods, True Value Hardware and Smuggler’s Inn. Meanwhile, alternate commercial areas have popped up in the form of Ryders Square, Beju Industrial Park and Hewlett Park Landing.
Clark said relief will not come quickly, even with initiatives like the downtown revitalization project.
“It takes time for these (negative) impacts to show and it takes time to remediate them too.”
Bais already sees reason for optimism. She pointed to some unique shops that have opened in the downtown, as well as recently announced plans to renovate the empty Cobb’s AG Foods building into a shopping centre.