Township passes on consultant in revitalization
By Sue Tiffin
Minden Hills council has opted to turn back to the community rather than hire a consultant to get input into a main street revitalization project.
Emily Stonehouse, economic development, destination and marketing officer, returned to council on July 25 with research into three different consulting firms, which she conducted under council’s direction from a June 27 council meeting.
Stonehouse noted it was a general inquiry she was presenting, to determine if council wanted to use a consultant to help plan use of main street revitalization initiative funding to properly implement the newly adopted community improvement plan.
A total of $43,031 was allocated to Minden Hills through the province’s Main Street Revitalization Initiative, for projects aimed at supporting and benefiting small businesses. A meeting held among stakeholders in April 2018 brought forward suggestions including public washrooms; a park for children to play; and beautification efforts.
So far, $6,000 has been used for downtown murals, $7,000 will be used for decorative lighting in August 2019 and $30,031 is the remaining amount available for community improvement plan consultation and implementation. Any funds remaining after that would be used for the original projects proposed, according to Stonehouse’s report. She has in the past presented a list of items on which that money could be spent that included the aforementioned projects as well as $5,000 for waste receptacles in downtown Minden; $5,000 for benches; $1,500 for custom planter boxes; $10,000 for additional planters; $1,500 for hanging baskets; $1,000 for event signage; $5,000 to beautify the bus stop area at Minden Mercantile and Feed Co., and $1,000 to upgrade shrub beds.
Stantec, which presented a community improvement plan to the township in June, declined working on the project. Stonehouse found Stempski Kelly Associations was able to conduct the project for approximately $20,000 while MBTW/WAI could do so for $30,000. Staff recommended Stempski Kelly Associations for being more community-minded.
Councillor Jean Neville said she still had an objection to using the money for consultants, noting she thought the committee of shareholders who had previously engaged on the topic should be involved.
“I think that’s really important that we’re thinking of spending this money on a consultant instead of for positive changes on the main street, because I think between staff and some business owners that have done an excellent job, some of them, so far, that this could be done internally with this group and not have to spend that money on a consultant,” she said. “I mean, $20,000 or $30,000 could do a lot to revitalize the main street, and that’s what it was intended for. I just don’t like spending money on consultants or something that I think is possible to be done by people living here.”
Stonehouse said she had talked to some businesses and said “it kind of goes right down the middle with what people want, to be totally honest.” She noted it was beneficial for her to hear what councillors thought was the best option for the community.
Councillor Bob Carter said he agreed with Neville, and said he “could not be more against us going out and getting another consultant.” He said that since he first ran in last year’s election, he’s had people come to him to tell him about the committees they had been on in the past, and the reports they had developed regarding projects like the Riverwalk.
“I’m sure we probably have a number of reports that are sitting on the shelf that tell us pretty much what we should be doing in the downtown area,” he said. “...we have real things that need to be done, whether it’s garbage cans or flowers, or park benches or whatever. I’m sure that this committee is capable of doing or deciding what needs to be done. I don’t want to pay for a consultant who’s probably going to just rebrand one of those names on there, and change the name of the town and give us the same report they’ve been giving everybody else, and we pay $20,000 to get a colour palette or something like that. I understand there’s more to it, but boy, I would really like that we spend money on actually doing something as opposed to a consultant.”
Mayor Brent Devolin said that in his four-and-a-half years on council, “we can’t even get the business community to create a BIA,” despite multiple opportunities.
Deputy Mayor Lisa Schell said she agreed with Neville and Carter, and that if there was more funding, she could understand hiring a consultant, but with the money available, it could buy a lot of “tangible things” that the community would see.
“And I think there’s enough experience and whatever you want to call it, good taste, within the community services and the economic development department, that I think between Emily and Mark [Coleman, community services director] they could make some decisions that would benefit everybody and we’d have something we can touch,” she said.
Councillor Jennifer Hughey said that she admitted she had suggested to Stonehouse to look into Stantec to use as a consultant, but after seeing the amounts of money the township had spent on consulting previously, had reconsidered.
“And I think we all trust Emily to make the best decision,” she said.
Neville again said the downtown business shareholders meetings had been productive and she expected the group would be happy to have a consensus on what the downtown area looked like. She said she anticipated that the committee would make decisions that “would be better than good.”
“...and you’d have Made in Minden, and that’s what it should be, and it would be Made in Minden by the people involved and they would be much more supportive and proud of it if they did it themselves, along with Emily and Mark, of course,” she said.
Sayne said she had recently returned to her hometown and had taken note of their spending toward accessibility.
“It was just amazing to see this little town where I grew up which is like Minden in so many ways, and what they’ve incorporated,” she said. “I think that we can do that as a municipality and we have the ability to do that, and that’s where our designing and consulting money should go. I think that we do have the artistic ability, we have the motivation of people downtown that want to work together. The BIA, yes, that has been a quagmire for a very long time, and I don’t think that’s the best model, so why don’t we just say that’s not the best model, and see what comes up in a more rounded way.”
Township CAO and treasurer Lorrie Blanchard said she thought there needed to be clearer direction in order to spend the downtown revitalization money and also move forward and implement the community improvement plan. She asked if council still wanted a plan, or no plan at all.
“This is a 180-turn direction, just so you know today,” said Devolin.
Carter responded that he wasn’t dizzy, and so was “good with that.” He suggested having a list of extras, like what has been done for the arena project. He said it wouldn’t please everybody but would offer a way to prioritize.
Stonehouse said she would be happy to strike a committee, but raised concerns about the upcoming deadline for spending the funds, which is March 31, 2020.
Sayne said she too liked the idea of a community committee, but said that at this busy time in the summer season, it might be difficult to pull people together.
“I know there’s lots of great ideas out there, I hear them just walking down the street,” she said. “You could be doing this, why aren’t you doing that? I can’t go from one end of the street to the other without hearing some really good practical ideas ... I like that idea of a committee.”
Stonehouse said there had been a committee prior to her start with the township, who had narrowed down what the funding should be spent on.
Carter said if a list already exists, he was “pretty certain there are going to be some things on that list that are pretty obvious,” and said Stonehouse and Coleman together with a new committee or the committee of the past could spend money to fund those things.
“I’d think you go with the list,” he said. “We’ve been creating lists forever, let’s start working on what’s on the list.”
Blanchard said there is a need for a colour palette and streetscape design, and said that hopefully by the end of September, Stonehouse could gather “enough folks” to help with those kinds of decisions.
“Some of the money was going toward flowers, in my opinion that’s a one-shot deal,” she said. “Flowers die, next year you no longer have that money, so it would be nice to order things that are a little more permanent with those funds.” She said the committee would help move forward toward a formalized plan that could be used to implement the CIP.