BIAs call for ministry of state for downtowns

Jim Donnelly
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A group of local business improvement areas and their national counterparts on Tuesday called for a new federal ministry of state for downtowns, along with federal funding initiatives to repair crumbling inner-city infrastructure.

Gerry Lepage, executive director of the Bank Street BIA.

The Canadian Issues Task Force, a group comprised of BIA and other business representatives from across the country including BIAs from Downtown Rideau, Wellington West, the ByWard Market, Bank Street, and the Glebe, included the recommendations in a report drafted at the Canadian Downtown Symposium but released Tuesday.

The event, which drew business leaders from as far afield as Vancouver, B.C. and Halifax, N.S., took place last week in Ottawa.

Bank Street BIA executive director Gerry Lepage, who attended the symposium, said the group's recommendations build on longstanding grievances between cities and the federal government.

"Certainly, a national urban agenda is something our association has been after for over 20 years," he said. "We're looking for something much like in the U.S., where you see revitalization done through multi-tiered projects involving various levels of government."

"We have despearately needed that kind of urban agenda for quite some time."

The report made five recommendations to the federal government:

1)   Create a ministry of state for downtowns/urban issues, to coordinate municipal issues such as transit, infrastructure funding, housing, sustainability and public health;

2)   Support a research fund for an annual or bi-annual report to track the health and prosperity of Canada's downtown areas;

3)   A commitment to work with municipalities to fund infrastructure projects in downtown cores;

4)   Federal funding for more business improvement initiatives; and

5)   Respond to specific criminal code and justice concerns of downtown cores across Canada.

The group said downtown groups in every province were consulted when drafting the report.

Mr. Lepage went on to say that inaction by the federal government regarding downtowns will eventually cost the country economically. "There's a demographic shift bringing people back into the urban cores," he said.

"Downtowns are going to be the engines of our economy, and economic development is the fuel for those engines. And there's no question we will see a breakdown of our urban cores" if action isn't taken, he said. "And I think we're at a precipice right now."

Of 44 delegates listed in the report, 28 were from Ottawa and included representatives from the United Way, Ottawa Police Service, National Capital Commission and the City of Ottawa, as well as the heads of various BIAs and other groups.

Organizations: Canadian Issues, ByWard Market, Canadian Downtown Symposium OttawaPolice Service National Capital Commission

Geographic location: Wellington West

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