The push is on to free Brandon’s downtown development corporation from political interference, part of the ongoing organizational review being conducted jointly by Renaissance Brandon and city council.
The working group conducting the review, which includes city councillors and Renaissance Brandon board members, is looking at various ways to refocus and reimagine the corporation’s mandate.
The group is looking at the organization’s current model, reviewing its programs and making recommendations.
One of the main points under consideration is how to make Renaissance Brandon apolitical, and more in line with how Winnipeg’s downtown development corporation, CentreVenture, operates.
"It’s definitely being considered," Renaissance Brandon board chairman Shaun Cameron told the Sun yesterday. "I think that’s one place that CentreVenture’s model has strength, in the ability to be apolitical. Both council and Ren Brandon brought this forward to be discussed, and have a plan moving forward, absolutely."
How that will be done is not yet clear, but Renaissance Brandon’s downtown development specialist, Braden Pilling, says taking the politics out of downtown development is essential to helping the corporation make decisions "at the speed of private business."
All too often, he says, business interests have been bogged down or tainted by political interests.
"Because we started getting involved in acquiring property, we saw how much politics were involved," Pilling said.
"That isn’t really about the improvement of downtown or what’s good for the community. There were personal agendas that crept into discussions about us and different projects. 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."
Currently, the Renaissance Brandon board includes two voting members from city council — Brandon’s mayor, and the Rosser ward councillor.
The point of the review, Cameron says, is to help Renaissance Brandon refocus on being a development organization and fund projects that "bring bricks-and-mortar projects to the downtown."
As part of that operational refocus, the corporation announced two significant changes to its downtown revitalization approach yesterday afternoon, in advance of the completion of the organization’s three-year strategic plan.
Effective immediately, Renaissance Brandon will no longer fund and co-ordinate the Seasonal Concert Series, which included the long-standing 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.
Pilling said the city operates a similar programming function with Music in the Park, which hosts musical performances in a couple of city parks on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Though Pilling said the Ren Brandon board liked the idea of helping to feature local artists, he said there was overlap of the two events.
Though the organizational review is not yet complete, Pilling said it was important that the announcement was made soon, as Wednesdays by the Fountain usually began in May.
"We needed to come out ahead of time to let people know it won’t be held this year."
Pilling is hopeful that other groups in the community may step up to keep the Seasonal Concert Series operating, but said that at this juncture, "that’s not going to be one of our top priorities."
Renaissance Brandon is also terminating its arts and culture grant program, which offered up to $2,500 for entities that operated special programming events in the Downtown HUB. These events ranged from the summer multicultural festival in Princess Park to Rock the Block to the annual Earth Day celebration.
"The Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation offers a community grant for programming, and we hope this valuable service will continue to fund cultural events in downtown Brandon," Pilling said.
"These are difficult choices to make as an organization," Cameron added, "especially when they affect so many people."
There are several other changes under consideration, Pilling said, as Renaissance Brandon attempts to evolve its downtown focus and turn the corporation into a "hybrid model."
Though Renaissance Brandon was always loosely based on CentreVenture, Pilling says Brandon’s downtown corporation can never be exactly like the Winnipeg corporation, which has a larger resource base, and was essentially given 22 downtown properties to fund and sell.
"It’s really challenging for us to duplicate that model."
The board is also evaluating potential participation with projects that are currently in the works for downtown, including the Mackenzie Seeds Building renovations and the historic fire hall building on Princess Avenue that was recently sold to Sampson Engineering.
"We need to get in contact with all these specific projects and properties to see where the owners are at, and what assistance they might need," Pilling said.
The corporation’s strategic plan will not be finalized until the joint organization review is complete, possibly sometime in mid- to late June. At this point, however, no major changes to Renaissance Brandon have been approved, though Pilling says progress is being made.
"We’re really encouraged by the fact that council and Ren Brandon want to achieve the same thing. It’s just what’s the best way to achieve that now."
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