As the chief promoter and marketer of downtown, the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) generally focuses on the positive. Over the last several years we have seen our downtown evolve into one of the best mid-sized downtowns in North America. With great shops, an eclectic food and beverage scene, and wonderfully creative entrepreneurs, our downtown thrived. Today, our downtown needs profound support from Victoria council and the regional population.
For months, the 1,500 business in the downtown core have been dealing with ever-increasing issues of street disorder, crime, break and enters, shoplifting, and property damage. Since the devastating start of COVID, these issues have only worsened. As a result of the pandemic, we are seeing record-low tourism and only 20 per cent and 30 per cent of office staff are returning. The increased encampments in and around downtown creates an impression the area is unsafe. Locals are discouraged from visiting downtown at exactly the time businesses need them most.
Last week, council spent four hours debating the camping situation of 250 homeless people. No time was spent discussing how to support the 1,500 businesses in the core or the thousands of direct jobs they represent. Our members are saying enough is enough. The very economic fabric of our commercial core is at stake.
Today, hundreds of businesses are deciding whether to close, not next year, not next month, but right now.
Unless there is a substantial change in how downtown is perceived and functions immediately, the economic devastation will be unlike anything we have seen before.
However, the solutions for survival of our downtown are also in our hands. No beating around the bush, downtown needs:
• At least 65 per cent of office workers, back in their office.
• All tenting and camping banned in the downtown core.
• Indefinite extension of the rules allowing for patios to serve liquor, and the wholesale liquor discount to bars and restaurants be made permanent, from the provincial government.
• Prioritization by this council of the enforcement of basic laws protecting the health and safety of businesses and the public.
• Our great customers from across the region who have supported downtown throughout the last several months to continue making the extra effort to come downtown and shop, dine, and continue to enjoy our jewel of a downtown.
Personally, I always try to be positive, but I fear we are on the verge of an economic catastrophe. I want people to understand that once these businesses close, the jobs will disappear. Many of these jobs are in the service sector, the jobs our friends, family, and neighbours depend on to pay rent, buy groceries, and clothe their children.
This is not about profit and loss; it is about our neighbours. We need everyone to do their part, and we need Council to shift their focus to the dire needs of the commercial areas and the impacts of the pandemic.
We need them to listen, we need action, the survival of downtown Victoria is at stake.
– Jeff Bray is the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.