Councillors who championed slashing funding for the city’s downtown development corporation say a possible push to make Renaissance Brandon more like its Winnipeg counterpart is a good first step.
Renaissance Brandon announced Wednesday it’s reviewing its core strategy with the city, which includes making the organization apolitical and operate similar to Winnipeg’s CentreVenture.
“I think they’re moving in the right direction,” said Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine), who supported cutting Ren Brandon’s municipal funding during the latest budget deliberations in January.
“The depoliticizing of it is, I think, essential,” he said. “We all want it to go in a similar direction.”
The fledgling corporation may eventually see itself pushed from the city’s nest and therefore allow for faster and easier development.
“There were personal agendas that crept into discussions about us and different projects,” Braden Pilling, Ren Brandon’s downtown development specialist, told the Sun on Thursday. “We’d like to minimize that and get things done that we need to get done instead of dealing with political issues. They hinder progress.”
However, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who has been a vocal advocate of downtown’s rebirth since her election campaign in 2010, said there’s been no political interference with the development corporation.
“We have anything but,” she argued, but agreed less council involvement will speed up development.
How these visions will come to fruition has not yet been established as talks continue, but Decter Hirst said council will still have an interest in Ren Brandon.
“Renaissance Brandon is a creature of city council and so you can’t just cut it loose either, because it’s going to be needing funding.”
Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond), who has been critical of Ren Brandon’s effectiveness, said he’d be fine with an ongoing administrative grant from the city, but would like the corporation to have a credit line to foster downtown development in earnest.
“Many residents see them as part of council even though they’re arm’s length,” he said. “When their primary funding comes from the municipal government and the province, there’s no accountability to us and therefore to the taxpayers.
“There’s been some good work that Ren Brandon’s done, but when the average taxpayer looks at it and asks what we’ve got in return for the money given, a lot of them have trouble answering that question.”
As part of the ongoing operational refocus, the corporation announced two significant changes to its downtown revitalization approach Wednesday afternoon, in advance of the completion of the organization’s three-year strategic plan.
Renaissance Brandon will no longer fund and co-ordinate the Seasonal Concert Series, which included the Wednesdays by the Fountain and Carollers in the Park events. Both of these were largely funded annually by the province through Renaissance Brandon’s project funding.
Todd Birkhan, vice-president of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce, said he’s in favour of shifting Ren Brandon’s focus away from cultural events.
“If they feel it’s going to lead to more results, then we’re in favour of it,” he said. “We want to see downtown being more results-focused and not just activities done for activities’ sake. We want to see downtown grow, prosper and have businesses.”
He, along with other businesses downtown, believe the city’s hub needs an “anchor” — a big business such as a casino or a hotel — to attract more business to the area, but sees promise in smaller investments, like the recently announced plans to turn the former fire hall on Princess Avenue. into a restaurant.
“In a perfect world, the anchor will come and you build around it, but we can’t control that ... we have to start making small steps to build some confidence and hopefully someone will come forward,” he said.
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