Happy New Year! It’s time for an overview of 2019’s downtown business highs and lows, and thoughts on this new year and new decade with our Executive Director, Jeff Bray.
What were some of the key experiences that shaped 2019 in downtown Victoria?
2019 was a significant year. The Plaza Hotel fire had a huge impact on many local businesses, not to mention the destruction of a longstanding building. On the flip side, we also launched October officially as Small Business Month to showcase the diversity and scope of small business downtown and published our First Annual Report on Downtown. Lastly, Lights of Wonder created a magical new winter excursion for thousands of Victoria locals and visitors for years to come.
The Annual Report on Downtown revealed some stunning facts—the economy in the region is very strong, with among the lowest unemployment rates in Canada:
- 37% of downtown businesses have plans to expand.
- 74% of businesses give downtown a B or better grade as a place to operate a business.
- Retail vacancy rates are a low 4%.
- Office vacancy is at 7% (which is historically very low as well).
All of this reinforces my belief that downtown Victoria is best mid-sized downtown in North America.
What does the changing landscape of downtown Victoria look like?
There is tremendous growth in the diversity and inclusiveness in downtown, especially in the growth of residential opportunities. Thousands of new units have and are coming online, condos, rental units, and micro-units. They all contribute to the mix of who lives downtown. The growth in the tech sector, particularly downtown, is also reducing the mean age of who works and lives downtown. The energy people feel downtown comes from this diversity.
Our First Annual Report on Downtown also revealed that we have a fantastic diversity of new and established businesses, ranging from 26% operating less than five years to 33% in business for more than 20 years. We also have a healthy assortment of businesses, including professional services, retail, food and beverage, and government offices.
What are some of the things the City needs to do to ensure downtown Victoria remains one of the best mid-sized downtowns in North America?
For downtown, the focus needs to be on some key areas. One is ensuring downtown continues to be safe and welcoming. We need to ensure we enforce the laws that protect the community while maintaining compassion for those who are struggling.
We need to recognize for many small businesses, lease rates and property taxes that grow out of line with economic realities can lead rapidly to businesses closing. One only needs to look at Vancouver to see the loss of small independent retailers and the resulting negative impact on their commercial areas.
Downtown needs to continue allowing for residential growth and density, and especially for the development of rental units for a range of income levels. The City must make it easier, not harder, to plan, propose, and build this type of housing. Public transit needs to continue being a priority, especially to entice people to commute for convenience and also to save money on parking and gas.
What role does public space play in creating a vibrant downtown?
We must create more public spaces downtown where the community can gather, children can play, youth can connect, and people can walk their dogs. Great downtowns create great public spaces, and those spaces must be maintained, safe and welcoming for all.
And finally, what’s next for the Downtown Victoria Business Association?
Our mission, as always is to “nurture and promote the vitality and vibrancy of downtown Victoria and its business community.” We will continue to promote businesses, be engaged with our members, and also work hard to listen, and participate meaningfully in our incredible downtown. 2019 was an important year of establishing benchmarks, like the Annual Report on Downtown, to further all of our success now and long into the future.
Any last thoughts?
The 2020s can be the best decade for downtown if we remain focussed on the elements that make our downtown, and indeed all great downtowns, successful. As always, if you have any ideas, thoughts or concerns, I am available to chat, email, or have a coffee.
I wish you all the very best!