By John Swartz
Monday afternoon’s 4 p.m. regular council meeting has a couple items on the agenda which may take some time to air, otherwise the routine nature of the rest of the agenda would make for a quick meeting.
Of primary interest will be discussion of a notice of motion councillors Emond, Cipolla and Campbell are making regarding the fate of the summer pedestrian mall otherwise known as the See You On The Patio program.
In 2020 and 2021 the City used funds from the pandemic reserve to cover most of the costs of closing Mississaga and Peter Streets. The mall was created to operate Friday and Saturday nights.
April 12 Downtown Orillia Management Board directors decided they would only agree to closing the streets three times a year – coincident with their long established sidewalk sale, Classic Car show and Mariposa weekend.
This drew a chorus of voices from merchants and shoppers questioning how the board could reject what is generally perceived by many as a successful event. The opposition to the decision prompted a petition campaign, and the board will have a special meeting on this subject Tuesday this week.
It also generated the notice of motion for the City to authorized closing the streets Friday and Saturday nights and contribute $10,000 toward the expense of doing so. The DOMB established in their report the cost to close the streets for 10 weekends to be $20,400, which includes labour, security and advertising, and only divide costs among businesses participating (i.e. having patios, staying open) and not have businesses that remain closed contribute to costs.
The report from the councillors includes a report from staff. The City surveyed 525 downtown visitors, 62% of them Orillians, and found 63% visited a store and 61% went to a restaurant. A quarter of respondents visit a store or restaurant for the first time. Significantly 87% want the streets closed on weekends.
A separate survey of business owners was also conducted. There were 41 who responded. Last year’s program included venues outside the downtown core, and 17% of respondents came from that group. Retailers made up 60%. Of all respondents, 81% considered the program a success and 74% had an increase in traffic.
Having listened to the DOMB meeting and read comments from businesses they surveyed there is a classic case of having so many trees in the way it’s impossible to see the forest at play.
For some reason 4 of the present board members couldn’t see the advantage of having hundreds of people exposed to their businesses, people who might otherwise not come downtown, or only come downtown to eat. Three board members, 2 of whom have restaurants, were not present at the meeting. Of the 6 in attendance, one was councillor Rob Kloostra, and only one is restaurant owner.
They relied on a DOMB survey of members, of which there were either 62 or 54 responses depending on which part of the report one reads. The survey failed to ask the basic question, ‘do you want a pedestrian mall, yes or no?’ and instead asked for multiple choice answers on three scenarios which ranged from the three weekends in question, to Friday’s only and both Fridays and Saturdays all summer.
The common argument from board members was, since closing the roads did not immediately benefit their business because they either weren’t open, or did not have any buying customers they weren’t prepared to inconvenience car driving potential customers, or incur DOMB expense to close the streets.
All opposed missed the value of being seen, or that since several retail businesses, perhaps the majority, sell bigger ticket items, people might browse/shop several times before buying, or at some point will recall they saw something during a previous trip downtown they now need. The best example of this comes from the art galleries, of which several gallery owners have reported they sold little or nothing during the annual Starry Night event, but in later months, particularly closer to Christmas, sold art patrons had first seen in August. It can be, since most downtown retailers are not department stores with a lot of fast moving items, the same thing happens for those who might want to buy a watch, ring, computer, clothing item, etc.
None had ideas to generate interest and take advantage of a slower moving audience they would not have otherwise had except because of the pedestrian mall of the past two summers, or ideas of turning their immediate cost into a future value. None spoke to a City survey of 426 people, 59% of whom said they visited a store (other than a restaurant).
And while there is significant outcry over the DOMB decision, it is interesting the councillors have put forward a report/motion to continue the program from July 1 to Labour Day. There are two options, one to cover 50%, up to $10,000, of the cost, the other to cover the full cost ($18,840) – most of which is staffing logistics – minus advertising. In either case the money would be allocated from the Municipal Accommodation Tax, which this type of expenditure is exactly one of the ways the tax is intended to be used.
The report authors also state any decision made for either option is contingent on the DOMB agreeing. With the timing of meetings this week for both groups, it’s possible the issue of who pays, and how much, might become attractive enough for the board to change its position from three weekends to the entire summer since many arguments heard from their meeting of April 12 were based on cost. Or, maybe the argument held by some merchants, including some board members, any road closing has a negative effect might come into play if there is still resistance to allowing a pedestrian mall of greater scope.
You Threw Away What?
The other item which might generate a lot of discussion is a report from environment services department regarding the new clear garbage bag switch Orillians now operate with.
This report was pulled from a council information package by Mayor Steve Clarke and there is no additional report other than the original from staff in March assessing the program’s first 6 weeks of operation, so what the mayor intends by bringing the report to council is not clear. It could be so citizens get informed of what staff found, or maybe he intends to introduce a modification to the program.
As for what staff found:
“Overall, the clear garbage bag program has been a success and is having the intended effect of encouraging diversion of compostable organics and recyclables while significantly reducing the amount of garbage being collected and landfilled in Orillia.”
The City collected more recyclables and compost and less garbage at the curb. However, people can still take their garbage to the landfill using bags that are not clear. People brought 306 loads of garbage to the landfill, a 75% increase over the same period in 2021. While this sounds like many people will inconvenience themselves with an unnecessary trip to get rid of garbage, by weight, those who brought tagged garbage accounted for just over 10% of what was received. In fact, while more people made trips to the landfill to get rid of their garbage, they brought 5 tonnes less garbage than the same period in 2021.
The Rest Of The Agenda
There is a deputation to be heard. Kathy Barnard, president of the Save Your Skin Foundation, will speak about early detection of skin cancer and inform council May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
The reports section of agenda has the usual from last week’s committee meeting, and it contains one with 17 letters to council regarding the city boundary expansion issue. All are opposed to expansion for several reasons. The common argument is opposition to urban sprawl and in favour of greater intensification targets, though none offer suggestions which neighbourhoods should be raised and rebuilt for greater housing density. Presumably these will be received as information.
Council meetings are done by video conference and the chamber is closed to the public. You can watch it live on Youtube.
(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia, Images Supplied)