Craig Street merchants in downtown Parksville want city to help them spruce up their shopping zone

Representatives of the street's business owners had some harsh words for the PDBA at a city council meeting on Monday night

Craig Street merchants want to spruce up their street and they asked Parksville city council for help on Monday night.

Business owners Barry Evans and Shellie Atwood told council they have been frustrated in their efforts to work through the Parksville Downtown Business Association (PDBA).

“Basically, we were told by the PDBA that they are not available to help,” said Evans. “We were told to do it ourselves.”

The PDBA is funded through a bylaw that allows the city to collect a levy from downtown businesses, turning the money — $155,000 this year — over to the association.

“I do not believe we are getting value for money,” said Evans.

Some councillors weren’t sure what role the city should play, if any, in this issue.

“This feels like it’s something between yourselves and the PDBA,” said Coun. Sue Powell.

“The first thing you have to do is get along with the PDBA,” said Coun. Al Greir.

Evans and Atwood said they would like, for a start, to see benches, more garbage containers, better flower boxes and some stylized crosswalk painting done on Craig Street, along with better lighting.

“The PDBA has a budget for these things but they never use it,” said Evans, who also expressed frustration about how the PDBA operates, including the filling of board-member chairs.

“It’s certainly not transparent,” said Evans. “And to get on the PDBA (board) you have to be found to be suitable.”

Members of the PDBA board and its executive director Pam Bottomley sat in the gallery listening to Evan and Atwood. After the meeting, they asked for time before commenting, although Bottomley did say: “I’m really excited so many people care about downtown.”

Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Kim Burden said that organization isn’t about to get in the middle of this dispute.

“We have a relationship with the PDBA and it’s a positive one and we would like to keep it that way,” said Burden.

Council eventually directed staff to come back with some cost estimates on the upgrades the Craig Street group is requesting, without making any commitments.

“We have an awful lot of other streets,” said Greir. “We have to be careful we are not snubbing our nose at another street.”

Atwood expanded on Greir’s comment with another shot across the PDBA’s bow.

“If there are a whole bunch of streets and businesses forming their own groups, doesn’t that tell you the PDBA is not doing their job?” said Atwood.

In an interview Tuesday morning, the PDBA’s Bottomley pointed to a number of new buildings and a positive vibe in the downtown, specifically pointing to Eat Fresh Urban Market, the new Vancouver Island Insurance Centre and the new Co-op gas station/store/condo development.

“Downtown revitalization is happening, let’s keep the momentum going,” said Bottomley. “We are the envy of other communities, large and small.”

The PDBA went to the city in the summer asking about the availability of benches for Craig Street, said Bottomley. She said many of the things being requested by the Craig Street merchants are items that fall under the city’s purview, or, as in the case of Weld Street, they are paid for by a developer as part of a larger housing/retail project.

“We have never said no to anything they (Craig Street merchants) have asked,” said Bottomley. “We were not formed to do what the city normally does — we are there to augment it. And we are not in complete control of a timeline when they are joint projects.”

The PDBA has been focused on marketing and promoting the downtown as a whole, both locally and to a wider audience, said Bottomley. The PDBA has 230 member businesses. Its president is Craig Carmichael, who said the current board is stacked with people who have experience in business and tourism both here and in other communities.

“We have a lot of experience on our board,” said Carmichael.

As for the board selection process, Bottomley said like most non-profits, the PDBA sets up a nominating committee that asks potential board members a couple of basic questions related to the candidate’s willingness to follow the bylaws of the association.

The PDBA’s annual general meeting is in March.

Outside the council chambers, Evans was asked what role he believed the owners of the buildings on Craig Street — many of which are not the owners of the business in their buildings and many of which live outside Parksville — should play in the future of Craig Street. More than a couple of people in attendance Monday night pointed to the age and appearance of many Craig Street buildings, something that’s not under the control of the city or the PDBA.

“We’re not going to dictate to the owners,” said Evans.

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