'We need something:' Yellowknife councillor calls for downtown business district

Last year, Twist and Shout, The Cellar, Bootlegger The Source and other stores and restaurants either closed or moved out of downtown because owners said it was too difficult to operate.

N.W.T. law prohibits city from moving forward with idea, says director of planning and development

Yellowknife city councillor and downtown business owner Stacie Smith says downtown retailers need to come together in order to fix the issues they face. (Andrew Pacey/CBC)

One Yellowknife business owner is fed up with the state of the downtown core, and believes a little teamwork and help from the city could really improve things.

Stacie Smith owns Flowers North and sits on city council. She wants to see the city create a business improvement district for downtown. When a city creates a business improvement district, the business owners within that district will pay a tax that goes toward revitalizing the area, beautification and special events.

"So many people have come forward saying, 'We're in the same position' so let's get together, talk and see what we can do," she said.

Last year, the city's downtown lost a handful of businesses, including the bars Twist and Shout and The Cellar, as well as Bootlegger, and The Source — which moved uptown.

Smith doesn't see an economic turnaround happening on its own. In the coming weeks, council will be discussing a report on the state of downtown, which mentions storefront vacancies and homelessness as major issues. 

"Our economic forecast is looking pretty grim," she said. "We need something and the city needs ... to help."

City visited idea years ago, then abandoned it

City of Yellowknife director of planning and economic development, Kerry Penney. (Andrew Pacey/CBC)

This isn't the first time the city has mulled business improvement districts.

Two years ago, the department of planning and economic development created a report that pitched their creation in three areas — downtown, uptown and Old Town.       

But the plan never came to fruition because the Cities, Towns and Villages Act doesn't give the city authority to charge the tax necessary to create them.

Kerry Penney, director of policy, communications and economic development for the city, says one of council's main priorities in 2019 is to come up with a strategy for revitalizing retail downtown. Part of that process will be gauging the business improvement district idea with business owners.

"This is not the kind of project where you want to ask the territorial government to make legislative changes and force it on businesses," said Penney.

"It's one where you want to do this with the support of everybody involved so that you can make a good thing happen in the end."  


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