Humboldt's downtown core and how to draw shoppers to it was the focus of a meeting which attracted over 40 people last week.
On April 12, representatives of a variety of Humboldt businesses located along Hwy. 20 and the larger downtown area met at the Uniplex to get more information on the possible formation of a Business Improvement District (BID).
A BID is a public/private partnership in which business owners create a formal association, the focus of which is to draw people to their area and their businesses - much like Downtowner's Associations, which have existed in Humboldt in the past.
Last week's meeting, organized by the City of Humboldt and Humboldt and District Chamber of Commerce (HDCC), focused on what is involved in setting up a BID, and its possible benefits.
"Ensuring that our downtown area remains attractive and a draw to those who live here and those who visit Humboldt is very important," stated DonnaLyn Thorsteinson, HDCC executive director. "It will take a collaborative effort from all of you here tonight as well as all of your neighbouring businesses to make this happen... Your opinion and your input is the most important factor in ensuring a vibrant downtown community. The Chamber and the City will work with you to help this happen, but it is you that needs to be in the driver's seat."
Humboldt is definitely a growing community, said James Moller, city manager, and with big box stores moving in, the City feels it is important that the downtown be welcoming, attractive, and a functional place to do business.
Downtown areas are enjoying a resurgence, he added, as they are places where people can interact with each other, walk more and drive less.
Two speakers were set to appear at the meeting, but only one, Phil DeVos, executive director of the Yorkton BID (YBID) showed up to speak.
The job of a BID, DeVos noted, is not to organize sales or get involved in how businesses run.
"Our job is to get people to come into the downtown. Your job as business owners is to get them to come into your door. "
Just by their nature, BIDs, he added, can get things done better, faster and cheaper than municipal governments can because they don't have to worry about the big issues. They can focus, he indicated, on flower pots because they don't have to worry about the condition of the streets.
At the time YBID came into existence eight years ago, the downtown business area was getting into trouble. People were losing interest in shopping there, businesses were closing, and there were issues with parking.
"It was not a pretty place," DeVos noted.
"We wanted to spruce things up... (to make it) a place people would come to it."
At the time, big box stores were starting to come into Yorkton, which scared some smaller businesses downtown into action.
But those stores coming in "was the best thing that could've happened to us.," DeVos said. "Don't be afraid of them. They bring people to your community."
After a suvey showed there was definite interest among the 400 businesses in downtown Yorkton, a meeting was held, and the steps to form a BID, including the passing of a bylaw, were taken.
Eight years later, the list of YBID's accomplishments is pretty long.
They partnered with the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce to produce an award-winning CD of information to help entrepreneurs start their business in Yorkton.
"The CD... includes every form imaginable to get your business done," he noted.
YBID agreed to pay $1.6 million to the City of Yorkton for the instalation of new, more stylish streetlights, which are actually more energy efficient than the old ones, in the downtown area. They are currently using the funding the City has set aside for them each year - about half of their yearly budget - to pay off that loan.
The City of Yorkton, DeVos explained, matches the fees paid to YBID by its business members up to a maximum of $100,000 per year.
The fee paid by the business members uses a formula based on the property tax paid by each business. They also get grants for various programs, DeVos noted.
YBID has started a positive ticketing program, where citizens of all ages are rewarded for good behaviour with coupons to various businesses in their district. They also do a flower pot promotion every summer - each downtown business gets a pot of flowers that are delivered within a 24-hour time period, and they have helped build a park in an empty lot downtown.
They also hold barbecues and other festivals downtown, and have had benches and garbage cans made in order to make the downtown area more attractive.
This year, YBID is helping to redevelop an old mill and are trying to promote walking in the community through a new program.
They also hope to come up with a long-term plan to clean sidewalks in the downtown in both summer and winter.
Their efforts have paid off - Yorkton's downtown is thriving.
"Now, you cannot get space in Yorkton. Business space in our downtown is at zero," DeVos said.
The Chamber of Commerce was not involved in the setup of YBID, he stated. He also did not recommend that a BID include the entire community.
A BID, he added, can create better relationships between businesses.
"The business community is working towards creating more business for business," he said. "It's an attitude thing."
From the amount of interest shown at the meeting, Thorsteinson felt that the community is getting behind the formation of a BID for the Hwy. 20 business core, which includes one block on either side of Main St. Humboldt.