With the number of vacant retail shops in the city centre hovering near an eight-year high, the Downtown Victoria Business Association is taking steps to attract merchants with hard numbers.
A pilot program to count pedestrians in three spots downtown with thermal-image counters is an effort to offer potential investors and retailers solid data about foot traffic, said Ken Kelly, DVBA executive director.
“We believe that with this increasingly competitive environment, we’ve got to be on our game with promoting and providing the information that investors are looking for,” he said.
The three counters, installed by a company called Eco Counter, are located above sidewalks outside Market Square on Johnson Street, at the southeast corner of Douglas and Fort streets and on Government Street near Murchie’s Tea and Coffee.
The goal is to be able to pair accurate foot traffic data with vehicle counts already available through the City of Victoria, Kelly said.
The retail picture continues to be rather bleak downtown. In their 2013 strategic plan, the DVBA reported the ground floor retail vacancy rate was 7.1 per cent at the end of 2012. That marked a slight improvement over 2011, but was still one of the highest rates since 2005, when year-end vacancies hit 7.8 per cent.
“I’m not convinced this’ll be the saving grace for downtown,” Victoria Coun. Ben Isitt said.
A more effective and direct strategy would be to find a way to route buses carrying cruise ship passengers into town rather than to a handful of tourist attractions, he said. “If we can work to ensure the vast majority of passengers reach the downtown, that could have a huge impact for local businesses.”
As for the public being recorded by devices downtown, Isitt voiced concern that the DVBA did not consult with the office of the B.C. Privacy Commissioner or the B.C. Civil Liberties Union before deciding to install them.
“I think we have to be mindful of the creep of surveillance, but I’m comforted by the fact there won’t be faces recorded,” he said.
Kelly said the technology is designed strictly to register movement, not to identify anyone or create images similar to the x-ray cameras used at airports.