Communicating what the Town of Sidney’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) does is a high priority for the coming years.
On Monday, Sidney Town Council confirmed restoring the EDC’s annual budget to $100,000 and will allow the EDC to collaborate with North and Central Saanich on economic development issues on the Saanich Peninsula.
That will help the EDC meet some of its internal goals. In a recent presentation to council, EDC Chair David Calveley said the group has to lets its work be known in the general community — or raise its overall profile in order to have the information they collect reach the public.
Some of that information in their recent report to council, includes a revision of the amount of buildings, stores or offices that are vacant in downtown Sidney in a retail gaps study conducted by Urbancis Consultants Ltd. and additional data collected by the EDC itself.
The Town commisioned Urbanics to collect local data on business vacancies, following up on a Sidney Business Improvement Area study done in early 2016 that showed many business spaces were vacant in town. The EDC was given the task of updating that information in a more formal setting, and the Urbancs study was part of the process.
According to the Urbanics report, overall unit vacancies in Sidney were as high was nine per cent (or 36 units) in July of this year. By September, that had dropped to 8.29 per cent.
Looked at as vacant square feet along Beacon Avenue specifically, that percentage drops to a high of five per cent in July, dropping to 4.6 per cent in September.
Urbanics noted in its December report that most of those vacancies were on the second level of buildings in the downtown area of Sidney — roughly 25 per cent of all second floor units.
“In contrast, only six per cent of street level units are vacant,” stated the report. “Of all the vacancies, six are either getting redeveloped or will soon be redeveloped and three are classified as vacant but might be amalgamated into neighbouring space.”
Overall commercial vacancy rates in Sidney, said the report, are not dissimilar from downtown Victoria, which has also experienced a drop in its overall street-level store vacancy rate between 2015 and 2016.
“We anticipate that Sidney’s business district is also likely to experience similar retail expansion and increased demand for street-front retailing going forward.”
Councillor Mervyn Lougher-Goodey seized upon the lower Beacon Avenue vacancy rate, saying that the work of EDC and the Urbanics report “eradicates the bad stuff.” He referred to the early 2016 SBIA study as “flawed information.”
“The problem is,” he said, “people in the community still are asking about the empty storefronts.”
He said more work needs to be done to get the word out about more current vacancy rates.
Coun. Erin Bremner-Mitchell said that’s the EDC’s objective — to communicate better with the public about its work.
The report also showed council the gaps in retail in Sidney. Those fall in areas such as general merchandise, furniture and home furnishings and eating and drinking establishments. The report does address the local retail food segment, noting it’s well-represented, apart from specialty shops (butcher, cheese shop). The report stated those “would be supported through additional “inflow” of retail expenditure form the secondary and tertiary trade areas.”
Urbanics also looked at Sidney’s various market opportunities and noted that snapshots of commercial vacancies need to be taken periodically to determine trends.
The report takes in current market information and makes some projections based on population growth and income. It does not mention the potential impact of commercial projects such as the Sidney Crossing retail site on Victoria Airport Authority land, or the Sandown development in nearby North Saanich. Both of those projects have yet to come to pass.