The proposal for a new, 50-acre commercial hub in Brandon’s south end has prompted a discussion on how it might impact existing retail areas.
Coun. Lonnie Patterson (South Centre) has expressed concern about the southern expansion, and said it is important to hear from the public before it moves ahead.
"I’m just worried. If we’re going to make efforts to develop downtown, how is a brand-new commercial entity in the south … going to impact that?" Patterson said at a council meeting earlier this year.
The process is still in the early stages, with the annexation proposal before the Manitoba Municipal Board. But if it moves ahead, the proposed plan of VBJ Developments is anticipated to include one major anchor tenant along with pad sites for restaurants, a gas station and smaller retail spaces.
The site is 170 acres in total, located in the RM of Cornwallis, southwest of the Patricia Avenue and Highway 10 intersection. In addition to commercial, there are plans for a mix of high- and low-density housing, as well as green space.
Alan Cruise, general manager of The Town Centre, said if it attracts more people to the city to shop, that’s good news for everyone.
"I haven’t looked deeply into this but … times change and things happen, and while it would be competition probably for all other commercial areas, the more you have to attract people to Brandon, the more people will come to Brandon and the more business for everybody," Cruise said.
Coun. Glen Parker (Riverview) said any development will increase the tax base, which may in turn, provide more funds to put into downtown revitalization efforts.
In Parker’s view, the southern commercial plan would not be detrimental to downtown, as the Hub area is looking for different types of tenants.
"I don’t know exactly what the developer would be targeting, but one would assume its major chain retailers and such, and that doesn’t seem to be the trend that they’re heading into downtowns, anywhere across the country," Parker said. "I think we’re looking for more niche type of stores and retail operations and such downtown, to draw people down there."
Ultimately, Parker added, the public will determine how successful the southern venture will be, as they will determine how successful downtown will be.
A challenge many cities experience is that as they grow in size, their downtowns can receive declining priority as efforts and resources are directed to building new neighbourhoods on the peripheries, according to Renaissance Brandon’s executive director, Elisabeth Saftiuk.
"What we don’t want is for our downtown to become underutilized or less of a priority as a result of new developments on the outskirts of the city," she said, adding it is critically important to never lose sight of the value of downtown Brandon as a major economic driver.
"I believe local decision makers truly do recognize the intrinsic value and importance of maintaining a viable downtown core. Council has made it clear that downtown is a priority, so that’s really good news."
Downtown is unique in that it is a dense, pedestrian-friendly area, Saftiuk pointed out, and cannot be found anywhere else in the city. A major focus for downtown revitalization is continued emphasis on residential development.
"Downtown residents already animate the streets at night and on the weekends, but the greater the critical mass of people living downtown, the more vital our downtown will be," she said.
If a new commercial development attracts more visitors from the region, Saftiuk said it will be important to market the uniqueness of the downtown so they are drawn to that area of the city as well.
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