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Highway retail good for downtown, says EDO

Downtown merchants heard from a high-powered lineup at the Squamish Town Centre Association's annual general meeting Wednesday (April 28) - including a surprising message from Squamish's Economic Development Officer.

Downtown merchants heard from a high-powered lineup at the Squamish Town Centre Association's annual general meeting Wednesday (April 28) - including a surprising message from Squamish's Economic Development Officer.

Lee Malleau feels that the downtown area of Squamish is on its way to being a great downtown core despite the fact that Squamish is facing significant retail development on Hwy. 99.

"The retail development on the highway will be good for the downtown's overall health," Malleau told the 12 downtown merchants in attendance at the AGM after warning them that she was about to make a statement they might not agree with. "This community suffers from one of the worst cases of out-shopping I've ever seen. About 50 to 75 cents of every disposable dollar from this community gets spent outside of Squamish. This is a debilitating blow for a local retail economy, especially for downtown merchants."

She went on to say that as the highway developments go ahead, work needs to be done on the downtown.

"Those communities who have been successful in developing both a healthy downtown and a larger retail sector are those who have invested equal amounts of resources into both," Malleau said.

"In Squamish, this downtown is a priority, full stop," the EDO said.

Malleau talked about community building and said job creation is a main driver of building a community.

She referred in her speech to a book called The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida.

"It is being touted as the end-all and be-all of economic development," she said.

According to Florida, great cities embrace technology, attract talent and are tolerant. Malleau agrees with Florida and said that Squamish is already attracting technology and she pointed to the wind energy test project as an example of that.

She added that the wind project is attracting more talented people to Squamish.

Malleau was asked for more information on the wind energy test project.She said the response from the community so far has been positive. One area of contention is the visibility of any wind towers that might be installed in Squamish. Some people don't like the idea of a tower being highly visible, she said.

She noted that the issue will be further discussed as the test project continues.

Malleau is pleased with the project and feels it is putting Squamish on the wind industry map.

"We are already in serious discussions with other wind energy companies because we are doing this test program," she said.

Other speakers at the meeting included federal Liberal candidate Blair Wilson, Dan McRae of the Community Futures Development Corporation of Howe Sound (CFDCHS) and Terese Cairns of CB Richard Ellis.

McRae updated the efforts to create a downtown revitalization initiative.

"We've had lots of calls from Vancouver real estate people asking about the survey and what Squamish wants," McRae said.

The survey is being reviewed by McRae and a consultant. McRae said that as a next step in the process, a meeting is scheduled for June 10. On that day, Steve Terry from the firm Moran, Stahl and Boyer will talk about his work in economic development and investment attraction as it applies to community revitalization projects.

Between now and then, McRae called on the merchants to do what they can to score "quick hit wins" to keep the momentum up in the downtown.

Wilson talked briefly about his experiences with the Robson Street business improvement area that he is associated with as a business owner on Robson.

Cairns introduced herself and said that she and her firm can help to bring investors that will deliver in the town centre.

"What I need is information so I can bring you investors that share your vision," the associate vice-president of retail consulting said.

Merchants sent most of the current executive back to their posts for another year, with three current executives running unopposed.

Mohammad Afsar returns as president, Jane Iverson is vice-president and Anna Kirman is staying on as treasurer.

Karen Tosolini moves from director to secretary to replace outgoing board member Donna Alexander.

In his annual message Afsar said the association was successful in forging new alliances in the last 12 months.

"New alliances have been achieved, most notably amongst them is the one with Community Futures," Afsar said. Through the partnership with the CFDCHS the downtown is moving toward revitalizing the downtown. CFDCHS did a survey of downtown land owners and business operators to determine how people feel about revitalization of the downtown.

"In our judgement, success is the only option," Afsar said.

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