Changing times: strategic plan to guide downtown transition.

Author:Kelly, Lindsay
 
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Downtown Timmins, the city's Business Improvement Association (BIA), marked a milestone in mid-December when it finished its five-year strategic plan. But completing it was the easy part.

"We know where we're going." said Noella Rinaldo. executive director of Downtown Timmins. "Now we just have to figure out how to get there."

It's the first strategic plan the organization's developed in about eight or nine years. Rinaldo said, and the BIA was to set out guidelines for implementation beginning in January.

To start, the BIA had to decide who its clients were. The organization serves the landlords who own the buildings, because they pay the municipal levy, Rinaldo said, but it also serves the tenants with businesses in those buildings, as well as the public, which feels it has a stake in the future of the downtown.

As a result. the BIA opted to change its mandate to reflect a new goal: making the downtown feel like more like a neighbourhood within the city.

Roughly 3.000 people work in the downtown, which has a vacancy rate of less than 1 per cent. But the perception of what downtown encompasses has changed, Rinaldo said. Retail space has made way for government, medical and banking services, and people often don't perceive the downtown as having much to 1---111111111= offer because there are fewer shopping opportunities.

There's also the issue of accessibility As the province introduces new measures over the next few years. offices located on upper levels of buildings have to be made fully accessible, Rinaldo said. Many landlords are opting to turn offices into residential space in lieu of installing elevators, which can be costly and disruptive.

Many businesses are still interested in being located, downtown, however, and Rinaldo said landlords are taking note. Some are converting their mid-sized offices into smaller, hub-type offices that can accommodate several small businesses or organizations. A trio of independent law offices took this idea and ran with it when they rented communal space for a shared reception area and secretary, while maintaining separate practices.

In many cases, the phone and computer lines are already set up. and the space is ready as a turnkey operation.

"You don't need very much anymore," Rinaldo said. "Gone are the days of the big file cabinets. You bring...

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