Opinion

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- Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

While we are inviting businesses to invest in Owen Sound, let's talk about what we expect them to bring to the community besides tax dollars. That's what I was thinking as I considered the future of the Legate building.

The Legate Furniture Store was the longest running retail business in Owen Sound when it closed in 2015. The building, across from City Hall, sold last year to a Toronto restaurateur for what she must have considered an irresistible bargain price. At the time, she had no specific plans for the building, but now each of its three levels are available for lease.

This would not be the first property in town owned by someone with no ties to our community. Many of our chain stores are "company stores", built and owned by public or private corporations. Some are local franchises of corporations whose majority shareholder is a holding company on another continent. Generally all of these are managed under a pretty strict set of standards, and local franchisees are just that – part of our local community.

It has been less common for a downtown building in Owen Sound to be owned or leased by an individual or company from out of town, but that is changing as investors look for bargains in the overheated real estate market closer to the Golden Horseshoe.

In our downtown, independent business people or franchisees with homes and families in the city know that their success is linked to that of their neighbours. They are concerned about clear sidewalks, parking and safety, and they understand that it is their responsibility to raise the profile of the neighbourhood by maintaining their own.

Do out of town owners have the same investment in our downtown? Are they even aware of their tenants' reputation in the community - their property maintenance, presence on social media, customer service, and participation in community events?

When I had a store on 6th Street East, noone from the city but me communicated with the building owner – a numbered company in Mississauga – beyond sending out water and tax bills.  When I tried to reach an out of town owner of a downtown business for comment for this article, I twice received an auto-reply that he was out of the country, but the local manager took to social media about my email.

If we want investors to buy in to our city, we need to build the relationships we want from the very start. We need more than ribbon-cutting.

Does the City tell new property owners about our available facade grants, community events and business supports for their tenants?  If their tenants have complaints about City services, they need to be addressed. If businesses are not meeting their obligations, or their actions are dissuading customers from patronizing our downtown, they need a personal visit from our City representatives to resolve the issues.

Last year we replaced both our Manager of Economic Development and our Communications Advisor with a Manager of Community Development and Marketing. Maybe this is his job.
If we want growth - healthy growth - we need people to bring more than their chequebooks to our city. We need investment.


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