Brandon's mayor cannot be a champion for downtown revitalization if they only visit the downtown "as a tourist," the woman vying to unseat Mayor Dave Burgess says.
In releasing her list of strategies on how to revitalize Brandon's downtown, mayoral candidate Shari Decter Hirst says as a downtown resident and business owner, she knows the area has a healthy nucleus and knows exactly how to build on it.
"The best way to understand the challenges and opportunities is to be here," she said, standing in the new Brandon School of Dance space on the 100-block of 10th Street. "When you can see the hundreds of young dancers being dropped off by their parents, when you see the folks enjoying the restaurants and cafes, when you see people getting frustrated because of the lack of parking ... that only comes from being familiar with the neighbourhood. You can't get that information from a report."
Brandon's core is on the cusp of a cultural explosion, Decter Hirst said. But first, city council needs to throw its support behind the Strand Theatre renovation project more than it has half-heartedly done to date.
Decter Hirst makes no bones about the fact she owns property directly across the street from the proposed theatre re-development and would very likely see her property values rise if the project was successful. But the entire community would benefit from a thriving community theatre space, she noted.
"As mayor, I would strongly endorse the Strand," she said "When the water rises, all boats float higher."
The disturbing number of empty storefronts in Brandon's downtown could also be partially solved by following the lead of Pittsfield, Mass., Decter Hirst said.
"The blank windows were blind eyes and they felt that detracted. So, what they did is they made arrangements to lease out store window space for studios," she explained. "Driving down Rosser Avenue, you could see an artist working on a canvas or a dancer rehearsing or a couple of actors rehearsing their lines. The windows became windows to the heart and the soul of the community."
Decter Hirst has also suggested that the city put tougher tax penalties on property owners who leave their downtown properties abandoned or in shambles.
However, it's a punitive strategy that Burgess disagrees with.
"That's just going down a dead-end street, doing that," he said. "I believe you need to take pro-active action and also incentive action to make the right things happen."
The race's other candidates, Nikolas Avlonitis and Henry Hansen, could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon.
The Brandon University Students' Union has launched a campaign to ensure that all students in the city are as plugged in as possible to this year's municipal election.
In co-operation with the Canadian Federation of Students Manitoba region, BUSU kicked off its Students Vote informational campaign Friday afternoon.
Through the campaign, the student union will provide a one-stop-shop for student-focused information that includes how to find one's ward, where to vote on election day, what identification is needed and municipal issues facing post-secondary students.
Students should be asking candidates their views on affordable housing for students, affordable and accessible public transportation, the elimination of private water in municipal owned and operated facilities, and accountability within city hall, says BUSU president Jade Visser.
"Students and young people deserve to have their voices heard and their visions made a priority in city hall," Visser said. "Getting more students out to the polls will do exactly that."
In addition to providing election day information, the union will be asking Brandon's mayoral candidates to fill out a questionnaire, the answers of which will be posted on campus to provide students with a clear picture of their choices.
A polling station will also be available right on campus on election day, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. More information on the municipal election can be found at studentsvote.ca.