Jeff Bray is the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association. (rickcollinsphotography.com)

Downtown Dialogue: Downtown Victoria building on its momentum

There’s no doubt 2019 was a significant year for Downtown Victoria with both highs and lows. With this month’s column, I hope to provide a brief snapshot of the past year and some thoughts on this new year and decade.

In the spring, the devastating Plaza Hotel fire had a huge impact on many local businesses, not to mention the destruction of a longstanding building. The local community rallied to support those shops and restaurants in and around the former Plaza Hotel.

In the summer, the Downtown Victoria Business Association published its First Annual Report on Downtown. That report relied on data from several sources, including our own business members, to paint a picture of downtown Victoria. The results showed a strong business mix, strong economy, historically low retail and office vacancies. Most businesses recorded growth year over year, and a third planned to expand their businesses over the next two years.

In the fall, the association declared October as its first annual Small Business Month. This campaign showcased the range, scope, and impact of small business downtown.

Lastly, in December, Lights of Wonder created a magical new winter excursion for more than 75,000 Victoria locals and visitors.

And 2020 looks to be another great year. That does not mean things are perfect. Parking remains a frustration, traffic flow can be a challenge. Issues around addiction and mental health exist around the edges of downtown.

For 2020, we need to focus on improving enforcement on criminal activity in downtown. Theft and shoplifting are on the rise in the core; this has a devastating impact on business, especially small business.

Open drug use in our public spaces, and the negative behaviours it elicits are also damaging to our downtown.

Businesses, employees and the public have a right to feel safe in downtown; this includes those suffering from mental health and addictions.

There is tremendous growth in the 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 energy people feel downtown comes from this diversity.

The 2020s can be the best decade for downtown Victoria if we remain focused on the elements that make our downtown successful. One where business can thrive, people can live, and the public can enjoy.

Jeff Bray is the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

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