Robyn and Jason Sneath aren’t just riding downtown Brandon’s upswing, they’re helping guide it.
The local entrepreneurs have purchased six buildings in the city’s downtown core since 2012 and have been actively working to transform the area into a popular destination.
So far so good, they reflected earlier this week in their flagship property at 1031 Rosser Ave., where they own and operate Fraser Sneath Coffee and SKIN Clinics, a dermatology clinic that Jason works out of.
The building is something of a microcosm of what they hope to accomplish in the surrounding neighbourhood.
They’ve restored the historic building, built in 1890, whose two businesses feed off one another, with SKIN Clinics’ clients partaking in the coffee shop’s offerings.
Their end goal is to see more businesses in the area positively impact one another, with some serving as destinations and others keeping people downtown once they’re already there.
Like the Sneaths accomplished with their flagship building, retaining the area’s historic character will be key to making this effort a success, they said, noting that this is what makes the area unique.
They have big dreams for the city’s historic downtown core, which Jason said dates back to his childhood.
Originally from Winnipeg, he remembers driving to Brandon as a kid and admiring the architecture he found in the city’s downtown.
About 10 years ago, he signed on to open a dermatology clinic in Brandon, at which time his dreaming was renewed along with Robyn, who joined him in sharing a passion for historical architecture.
They started snooping around for properties at that time, scoping out dream buildings they saw potential in.
Their first purchase was 833 Rosser Ave., which they’d initially planned on using for the dermatology clinic, but instead decided to keep the renters of the day, Brandon Hispano Bakery.
They switched gears to 1031 Rosser Ave., which they followed through in renovating as the SKIN Clinics and Fraser Sneath Coffee we know today.
Since then, more properties were purchased as part of the married couple’s overarching goal of helping turn around the city’s historic downtown core.
They purchased 829 Rosser Ave., right next door to 833, and are in the process of renovating the upstairs apartments, which they suspect haven’t been occupied in decades, aside from pigeons.
Complete with vaulted ceilings, high-end custom kitchens and other trappings of upscale apartments, two of the eight units are expected to open in the next few weeks, after which the others will follow suit.
Downstairs at 833 Rosser Ave., there’s a bidding war taking place for the former Brandon Hispano Bakery retail space, which the Sneaths expect to fill soon. Ten Thousand Villages rents the retail space at 829 Rosser Ave.
Down the block at Pacific Avenue, the grain elevator they purchased is expected to come down by the end of May, making room for parking to accommodate clients, their 21 employees as well as provide a pay parking income generator.
Other properties, including 29 10th St., are still coming along through the work of the construction company the couple started up, Sneath Projects, all within a few blocks of one another.
Even the house the family purchased, built in 1910, is within the city’s downtown area.
Their effort has been a lot of hard work, during which most nights find the couple working until midnight. But they both look at it as more of a hobby than a job, which makes the long hours easier to swallow.
Pulling a phrase from a class she took in university, Robyn said that she has always wanted to "do good and do well," which she believes she has been able to accomplish with her husband through their role in the redevelopment of downtown Brandon.
"It’s quite a lot easier to develop a four-plex in a suburb than restore a heritage building," Robyn said. "But we feel that everyone benefits when there’s more revitalization in the core, because the whole city benefits from a healthy core."
With Brandon University’s recently announced development plans in the downtown area, Jason said they’re more confident than ever in their decision to invest in downtown.
They’re not done purchasing and redeveloping properties and plan on snatching more up as they become available.
"We’re very appreciative of Brandonites in general for being so positive about this," he said. "The reception to what we’ve done has been overwhelmingly positive and appreciative."
Adding to Jason’s sentiment, Robyn said: "For those who haven’t come downtown in a while, we invite them to come."
There’s still a segment of the population that has been soured on downtown and might not have been there in years, she said, adding that much has changed in the past few years that merits another look at downtown.
Renaissance Brandon executive director Elisabeth Saftiuk commends the Sneath couple’s effort as having an "incredibly positive impact on downtown."
After a pause, the downtown steward added that even this is "certainly an understatement."
"It has brought people downtown and encouraged other people who might not have otherwise attended downtown to visit," Saftiuk said, noting that other new business developments in the area points to an even broader turnaround in recent years.
The Sneath couple’s optimism as it relates to the city’s downtown core appears to be contagious, Saftiuk said, pointing to a greater positivity as it relates to Brandon’s downtown core now than she has seen before.
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB