Renaissance Brandon is reaching out to CentreVenture Development Corporation in Winnipeg for advice on how to successfully grow and improve the local organization.
Ross McGowan, CEO of CentreVenture, made a presentation at a joint meeting of Renaissance Brandon and city council over the noon hour in Brandon on Wednesday.
“I found it very valuable,” Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said. “CentreVenture has a proven track record on downtown revitalization, doing some very exciting projects in downtown Winnipeg and they’ve been around for quite a while.”
CentreVenture was created in 1999 and is an arms-length agency of the City of Winnipeg. Since formed, they’ve been largely credited with turning downtown Winnipeg around.
CentreVenture expedites development by promoting private-public co-operation and innovative partnerships.
According to CentreVenture’s website, it encourages new retail, entertainment, housing and commercial ventures, along with public-sector investment in public spaces, amenities and services. The corporation puts particular emphasis on the rejuvenation of heritage buildings and development of vacant or underutilized downtown property.
Shaun Cameron, the chair of Renaissance Brandon, said the meeting was a good opportunity to learn from some of the successes and pitfalls CentreVenture has had in its time as a downtown development corporation.
“It was good for us to kind of see that there is a process and where we can go, and where we can hope to go in the future,” Cameron said. “We definitely learned some different ways to access funds and some different ways to leverage dollars that aren’t just merely taxpayer dollars.”
CentreVenture works as a non-political board, something Cameron says he would like to see for Renaissance Brandon.
“Eventually moving to the point that it’s a completely autonomous board, would be something we’d like to see happen,” he said. “You can run into trouble from time to time when politics come into play. It just creates a better opportunity when it’s a group of downtown development people or downtown community planners, that are working towards a common goal.”
Currently, Renaissance Brandon’s eight-member board consists of the city’s mayor, the Rosser Ward councillor, as well as business owners and other community representatives.
Decter Hirst said the meeting gave them a chance to have a much more thorough understanding of what CentreVenture’s model looks like.
“(They are) very much focused on return on investment, and a strong business case for their investment that they make in the downtown, built on a foundation of a solid vision, much like we’ve got with our secondary plan for our downtown,” she said.
There are quite a few similarities between the groups, such as Brandon’s arts and entertainment district and Winnipeg’s SHED (Sports Hospitality Entertainment District) concept.
“Both of us (are) moving in the same direction, unbeknownst to each other,” she said. “Because of circumstances with the Jets and a few other unique assets, they’ve been able to go sort of leaps and bounds. We’re continuing to take baby steps, albeit along a well-defined path.”
A big piece of the downtown puzzle, says Decter Hirst, is the residential component.
“If there are people downtown to shop, you will have stores, if there are people downtown to eat in restaurants, you will have restaurants,” she said. “So bring the people. That certainly is something that resonated with both Renaissance Brandon and with the council.”