Less weed, more tweed: Penetang residents say of downtown retail
May 17, 2023 By Local Journalism Initiative
By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
For its availability, Penetanguishene has a lot to offer for shoppers with the potential to offer more in the next ten years, according to a recently conducted market gap analysis.
Council heard from a presentation by Peter Thoma, partner at urbanMetrics Inc. and consultant on the project.
“We’re hopeful that this action plan provides the right information and the right direction to facilitate the ongoing improvement of the downtown of Penetanguishene,” Thoma explained at the recent regular meeting of council.
The goal of the consultation was to help support, retain and attract existing businesses to the commercial core of the town of roughly 10,400 people, as described more thoroughly in a capital project market gap study begun in 2022. By 2031, Penetanguishene is expected to reach a population of 11,600 approximately.
Over 240 residents participated in the study survey.
“We asked residents and other stakeholders around what the ideal function of the downtown should be,” said Thoma. “No surprise, people wanted to see a downtown that provided good shopping opportunities, and they also wanted to see events.
“They said the selection of retail and the state of repair on some of the buildings were some of the drawbacks that were keeping them from using the downtown as much as they could.
“We heard from the public that cannabis was something that they didn’t want to see any more of, whereas they wanted to see more apparel stores,” Thoma added.
In anticipation of space for the next ten years of growth, every aspect of business was earmarked as good for expansion except for beverage stores and cultural, entertainment, and recreation services; each of which had ample representation currently in the town.
Thoma pointed out that some concerns included a lack of cohesion to unify the downtown businesses in both internal and external appearance, and recommended that council try to refrain from converting commercial storefronts into residential units despite the housing crisis.
Following the presentation, Coun. George Vadeboncoeur asked if the consultants had connected with any of the landlords of vacant storefronts in their study, to which Thoma admitted they had not due to unavailability.
Later in the night at the committee of the whole meeting, the draft market gap analysis study was addressed several times in its connection to Penetanguishene’s anticipated strategic plan expected to arrive in late summer.
CAO Lees cautioned that while a branding strategy was good to have in tandem with the strategic plan, council shouldn’t “put the cart before the horse” in recognizing that limited staff time and resources were available. It was a sentiment agreed upon by Coun. Bonita Desroches.
“All this is doable, including Penetanguishene Day, including anything we want to move forward with but, our staff frankly have their hands full with day to day things,” said Desroches. “With all of these great initiatives, I think we’re all on board with moving these forward, but we will need to seriously look at our staffing complement so that we can be successful in these plans and strategies in this community development.”
Vadeboncoeur proposed an amendment as made through Coun. Doug Leroux from a March planning and community development services section meeting; “that staff be directed to include as part of council’s consideration of priorities within the forthcoming strategic plan the creation of a branding strategy.”
The committee of the whole approved the amendment, as well as the formal motion to use the study as a guiding document along with operating and capital budget changes for council’s future budget consideration.
The full 67-page draft market gap study and action plan, along with brief summary report, can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.
Meetings of Penetanguishene council are held on the second Wednesday of each month, and can be watched live on Rogers TV cable 53, or on the Rogers TV website.
Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.
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