An extensive review of Renaissance Brandon is underway, tackling everything from its mandate to its funding model.
Major changes are likely in store for the downtown development corporation, which has been in place since 2008.
"What we’re looking at is, moving forward, is there a better way to have Renaissance Brandon organized?" Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond) said.
City councillors and members of the Renaissance Brandon board held a meeting earlier this week, which was the start of the review process.
"I think for the taxpayers of Brandon … it’s important, because we’re the ones that are currently funding a majority of Renaissance Brandon," Montague said. "I think for downtown it’s important because I think we can prioritize and focus on what needs to get done."
A working group has been formed, which includes city councillors and Renaissance Brandon board members, to look at the organization’s current model, review its programs and make recommendations.
Montague has been critical of the downtown corporation over the years, and would like to see some changes.
"I think Renaissance Brandon is focusing on too many things that it shouldn’t be doing, like Music in the Parks," he said. "I’d prefer to see them in much more of a board similar to CentreVenture in Winnipeg, where it’s apolitical, it’s a property and development corporation that focuses on downtown, not focusing on the other things like grant applications for performers."
Renaissance Brandon’s operational funding comes primarily from the City of Brandon. The province provides project-based funding.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, who sits on the Renaissance Brandon board, said following this week’s meeting there is a fairly well-defined list for the working group to tackle.
"We haven’t set a specific deadline for those results, simply because we’re not sure at this point where they’ll take us," she said. "We wanted to give the working group as much flexibility as possible going forward, so that they could bring … some quality recommendations back to city council."
When it was established in 2008, Renaissance Brandon was granted the authority from the city to conduct activities related to downtown business development, such as the ownership of property, granting of loans, establishment of incentive programs and retention of proceeds from investments. The organization’s goal is also to create unique partnerships between the public and private sectors that bring renewal and energy to downtown.
Decter Hirst said the organization continues to evolve, both in terms of board members and expectations from the community.
"I think that it’s certainly undergone a significant transformation in the last few years, from looking at special events and those kinds of activities to actually purchasing property and beginning the process, working with the private sector to enhance the development of downtown," she said.
Some of the benchmarks discussed that a successful downtown development corporation would have, include increased property values and increased density downtown, Decter Hirst said.
"Given the board that’s currently in place, we’ve got lots of exciting opportunities in the days ahead," she said.
Braden Pilling, downtown development specialist with Renaissance Brandon, said the review/restructuring is the organization’s top priority.
"We need to work through this immediately," he said. "There’s certainly from both sides … a sense of urgency and commitment to work through this as soon as possible so that we can move on to bigger and better things."
Pilling said he’s pleased with the accomplishments Renaissance Brandon has made thus far, such as the outdoor Wi-Fi network, the opening of Kristopher Campbell Skate Plaza, and new businesses opening their doors downtown.
"I definitely feel there’s a vibrancy there that wasn’t there four or five years ago," he said. "As soon as you start to see out of province and out of city developers and real estate professionals looking at downtown Brandon, you know you’re on the right track."
One of the programs offered through Renaissance Brandon is the redevelopment grant program, which is designed to encourage the refurbishment of property in the Downtown HUB. The incentive provides a onetime grant of up to $175,000 to business owners, developers or individuals.
The rent abatement program was designed to recruit businesses to the downtown, by providing a forgivable loan to business owners. The loan assists in lowering lease rates.
Shaun Cameron, Renaissance Brandon board chair, said the redevelopment grant program has been quite popular.
"Definitely a lot more … people taking advantage of it," he said. "Just because it’s able to put some dollars into the core structures of the buildings they’re taking over."
As for the rent abatement program, it has been about a year since a business used it.
Cameron says following the review, he hopes there will be "a clear vision between council and Renaissance Brandon, that we both feel that we’re going in the right direction and can meet some of the challenges together."
The Brandon Chamber of Commerce is in favour of the Renaissance Brandon review.
"There have been some things done, we would love to see probably more, and quicker results," said chamber vice-president Todd Birkhan. "We’re in favour of what their goals are … but we also are very cognizant they are receiving public funds from both the province and the city, and it’s important to make sure that there’s effective results from use of those funds."