Downtown advisory committee defunct in Napanee, but hope remains

Greater Napanee’s historic Town Hall. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell.

Greater Napanee’s experiment with a downtown advisory committee failed, but something new is on the horizon.

The Downtown Advisory Committee was established in the spring of 2023 to advise Council and staff on all matters regarding the beautification and promotion of the former Business Improvement Area (BIA) in the Town of Greater Napanee. At a special meeting on Monday, Apr. 15, 2024, Council decided to dissolve the committee and explore a more wide-ranging approach moving forward.

Instead of a written report about the committee, Council heard a report by Councillor Angela Hicks, Council representative on the committee. Moving the microphone toward herself, Hicks began, “I’m going to move this closer because I have a feeling my finger is going to be on the button for a while.”

“Downtown Advisory Committee,” she began. “Well, it’s been an interesting year. I’m going to save us all a lot of time and just say that this entire mandate needs to be scrapped… We need to revisit the structure.”

She suggested a new committee be formed with a broader selection of members representing all facets of the Town. “There should be ‘Joe Blow’ residents; there should be a couple of real estate people; there should be business owners, farmers, financial service providers, and people who offer a variety of services and businesses. I think it should be opened up,” she said.

Hicks wished aloud for a larger committee allowing for the creation of subcommittees, such as fundraising/grant writing, marketing and communications, and event planning.

Readers might recall that Council voted to scrap its association with the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association (OBIAA), a supportive organization that helps communities with all of these items, after several problems occurred with the local board.

At a special meeting held to discuss the issue in January of 2023, one former BIA member, Hubert Hogle, observed that in Napanee, “the problem with BIA governance was too many captains but not enough crew. There were a number of large personalities with different visions, but they never coalesced into a good board of management.” He noted that the BIA “burned through a series of administrators,” and “these became harder to recruit, and they often left abruptly.”

It sounded like Hicks’s committee had encountered the same personality problems they were intended to fix, and she was clearly exasperated, saying, “[On]the existing committee, we are down to five members, [so] if one person doesn’t show, we have no quorum. So, I’m requesting that we revisit the mandate and explore the potential for a new committee setup.”

Mayor Terry Richardson then suggested that Council discuss an entirely new kind of committee, which was next on the agenda anyway. “What I am hearing from Councillor Hicks is, try as we might, the Downtown Advisory Committee are having trouble with that mandate… but what might be good that came out of it is that we have recognized the need for a committee for the whole of Napanee.” He suggested possibilities such as a Napanee marketing committee or tourism committee, as had been previously suggested by Councillor Pinnell.

Hicks suggested revamping a calendar of signature events. With the refurbishment of the Town Hall and Market Square, she foresaw a potential for revitalizing the farmers’ or vendors’ market, which was scrapped by the last council in 2022.

She also suggested the promotion of the Highway 33 corridor, where “there’s lots to see and do,” and other lesser-promoted points of interest in the Town. “All of these things need to be looked at so that we’re not wasting time and money. And I think the sooner we can get started on something like this, the better.”

Councillor Michael Schenk seemed to concur that the ‘whole town’ approach might be superior to just focusing on the downtown. He suggested an economic development committee that “looks after all greater Napanee. It goes ahead and looks into the advertising, what’s working, what isn’t working. You know what I mean? It’ll work on all aspects of our municipality from one end to the other end.”

That way, Schenk noted, “you’re bringing a lot more people than just the downtown… other people from different facets of whatever their businesses are. I think that might be a better approach — you know what I mean?”

“My whole idea, when I suggested that I make a motion to have a tourism committee, was that we could call it whatever you want,” enthused Councillor Dave Pinnell. “What I’m hearing is very exciting because we all seem to be on the same page… There were so many things that we used to do here: Chili Fest, which had the Family Day with the ball hockey, and the events at the [arena], Riverfront Festival.”

He recalled looking at a photo of the canoe tug of war at the Riverfront Festival: “Sometimes it feels that way: where we’re both in the same boat, rowing different directions, right? But we’re going to get there at the end, and this, how we’re talking right here, is very refreshing.”

After further discussion, Council voted to dissolve the Downtown Advisory Committee and further explore forming a new committee with a broader scope. 

Hicks noted, “I would like to make it clear to people that this isn’t just us dropping you [the committee] like a hot rock and moving on — which technically, in writing, we are. But in theory, we’re not, because it’s hopefully going to evolve into something much better.”

The next scheduled regular meeting of the Greater Napanee Town Council is Tuesday, Apr. 30, 2024. Members of the public can attend in person at Napanee’s historic Town Hall or view the meeting on the Town’s YouTube channel.

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