By John Swartz
Orillia council met Tuesday afternoon for a special council meeting to hear a report recommending the See You on the Patio program be extended to include Saturday evenings.
The report from the economic recovery task force was presented by the senior manager of business development, Laura Thompson. She outlined last year’s program and reviewed council’s decision of last October to have a program this summer to allow businesses to have outdoor patios, not just in the downtown, but across the city. Also included was a budget of $55,000 for marketing, hiring entertainers, and staffing.
“Since that time however, the province recently introduced their reopening plans, which continues to restrict indoor dining and indoor shopping until late summer at the earliest. This was a surprise we felt had the potential to negatively impact businesses during what is typically their busiest season,” Thompson said.
The task force asked the Downtown Orillia Management Board for input. Initially the DOMB supported closing Mississaga Street on Saturday’s, but only until the province’s Step 3 begins. In the middle of the transaction between the City and the DOMB, the province announced the timing of steps to reopening and the task force went back to the DOMB saying all Saturdays might as well be included up to Labour Day weekend.
Some businesses still don’t see the value of creating a pedestrian mall downtown.
“Support from businesses did vary. Most restaurants and retailers support a street closure, however other retailers did note concern about closing the street for the full weekend, submitting concerns two thirds of the street closure would reduce traffic and exposure to their stores,” said Thompson.
The report included some findings from a survey taken last summer about the program and 90% of visitors enjoyed the mall, 59% of businesses extended their hours, and 64% of businesses said the program increased awareness of their stores. The City hired 33 entertainers over the course of the summer, costing $9,500 of the $12,500 budget.
The motion included an additional budget of $15,000, almost equally split to cover additional marketing, staffing and hiring more entertainers. It also included giving authority for the general manager of environment and infrastructure to close any additional streets (Peter Street was mentioned in the report) if the need is present.
Interestingly, the motion did not specify the time duration Mississaga Street will be closed.
Also part of the meeting was a closed session about waterfront redevelopment plans. The City has picked, but not announced, a proponent resulting from two request for proposals design submissions to develop property on the west side of Centennial Drive the City owns (including the Metro Plaza). Yesterday’s meeting lasted two and a half hours. Consultants George Dark of Urban Strategies (author of the Downtown Tomorrow plan) and Leith Moore of Waverly Projects were on hand.
When back in public session the only motion introduced was to adopt a negotiation framework for the waterfront team, and that, “Mayor Steve Clarke be authorized to execute all transactional documents required to affect the provisions of the request for proposal.”
This is an indication matters are getting serious regarding advancement of the Downtown Tomorrow vision. The only comment prior to voting was from councillor Ted Emond.
“This is probably the largest and most important economic development decision this council is going to make for the rest of this term, so I believe it should be a recorded vote,” Emond said. Only councillor Jay Fallis voted against the motion.
Clarke previously told SUNonline/Orillia there won’t be an announcement of which design was chosen until there is a deal, presumably on the price of the land the City is selling (largest parcel is 70 Front Street North). There are other legal considerations to work out, which may include wording the proponent can’t substantially change the design once agreed upon, and timelines for construction are established.
(Photo by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)