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Prescott gives money to chamber, BIA

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PRESCOTT – Council has agreed to pay $13,333 to two business-advocacy groups to cover a third of the cost of a co-ordinator.

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Despite their reservations of a week earlier, council members this week voted to give the downtown Business Improvement Area and the South Grenville Chamber of Commerce the money to allow them to hire the shared staffer and rent office in downtown Prescott.

The town’s money is meant to cover a third of the co-ordinator’s salary and rent for a 10-month trial period after which the three partners will reassess to see if the money was well-spent.

Last week, council was decidedly cool to the idea, with council members saying the co-ordinator proposal had been tried – and failed – during the last decade, that the BIA had not changed with the times and that systemic changes are needed the make the two organizations viable. When it appeared the proposal might be defeated, supporters managed to defer the vote until this week.

This week, council’s mood was different and the vote was 6-1 to give the money to the two groups.

The difference from this week to last, council members said, was that they had a week to reflect on the request and that the chamber and BIA had eight members in the audience to listen to the debate.

Coun. Ray Young, one of the skeptics from a week earlier, said he changed his mind after discussing the proposal with town staff and being impressed by the professional way the idea was being presented. As a 40-year member of the downtown BIA, Young said he didn’t want to see the organization fold, which was a possibility raised by town economic development officer Dana Valentine last week.

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Coun. Gauri Shankar, who was also undecided last week, came on board when he got assurances from the BIA that it would consider ways of increasing revenues, including expanding its territory to cover all retail in town, and that the chamber would approach Augusta and Edwardsburgh/Cardinal townships to kick into the kitty.

Coun. Leanne Burton also reluctantly supported the payment this week after being undecided earlier. She suggested, however, that the two organizations come together as one and scale back their plans by reducing the hours of the new staffer and share space for an office.

Coun. Teresa Jansman and Mike Ostrander both continued their support of giving money to the organizations.

Jansman described them as “two broken, well-intentioned organizations” that need the town’s help.

Ostrander said the organizations need a new identity and a common cause. They should use the 10 months of funding to rethink their purpose, he said.

Mayor Brett Todd supported the money for the organizations, but noted that downtown Prescott is changing and the BIA has to change, too.

The biggest development in downtown in years will be construction of an apartment building that has no commercial component, he noted.

“The status quo is not acceptable anymore,” Todd said in reference to the BIA.

Referring to the chamber, Todd said that the South Grenville Chamber of Commerce changed its name from the “Prescott and District Chamber of Commerce” several years ago. Yet when it wants money, it approaches the town, not the townships of Augusta and Edwardsburgh/Cardinal, Todd said.

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The mayor said he would not be prepared to support the co-ordinator’s position past the 10-month trial period unless the chamber agreed to put Prescott back in its name.

Coun. Lee McConnell was the sole council member to oppose giving money to the BIA and chamber.

He said Prescott was the retail hub for the region for 100 years, but those days are gone. The combination of the “Walmart effect” from Brockville and the popularity of online shopping has affected the brick-and-mortar retail downtown, he said.

As well, the older demographics of Prescott mean the locals don’t consume as much: Seniors buy fewer new clothes, less new furniture, he said.

Yet the BIA has failed to adapt, he added.

“I don’t think the taxpayers should be asked to kick in money for an employee for the BIA,” he said.

wlowrie@postmedia.com

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