Mission’s economic development office will be actively promoting and attracting businesses to the downtown core.
Economic development officer Stacey Crawford will be working with Mission’s Downtown Business Association (DBA) to discuss which businesses will complement the downtown core, and prepare a marketing campaign to solicit those merchants.
Crawford, who finished moving his office into Welton Common, the former Buy Low Foods property the district acquired about a year ago, said there is already an interest in downtown redevelopment stemming from the aggressive incentive package introduced by the district about 16 months ago.
Major projects have come through the door, including an $8- to $10-million development near the library.
“That would be a huge benefit to the core,” said Crawford, noting the investors are determining if the project is feasible, and there are similar interests on other projects, but he was not at liberty to discuss those details.
Crawford noted the tax reductions, fee redemptions and the relaxed restrictions on parking and building height are attracting interest.
On a smaller scale, local merchants and property owners are also taking advantage of incentives to improve the facade of their building.
“We’ve had three or four last year,” said Crawford, who expects a similar number this year.
The efforts of the economic development office will support the incentive package and downtown action plan.
“We’ll likely be talking to independent business owners looking to relocate to reduce costs or for a second location,” Crawford explained. “It doesn’t preclude us from talking to franchises.”
Mission DBA president Carlo Billinger said the association is taking the incentive package to downtown property owners to spur more interest in improving buildings. And, he says he is looking forward to meeting with the economic development officer to look at what types of services and businesses will work well downtown.
“We’re open to anything,” said Billinger, noting even home-based business are all being considered. “If we can convince them this is a good spot to be, we will connect them with the landlord and try to make it work.”
Billinger pointed out when the DBA reaches out to potential businesses, they are advocating for Mission, not just the downtown. For example, Billinger explained, the DBA worked to bring COBS Bakery and the Shoe Warehouse to Mission.
“After going through the process, they decided downtown was not the place for them, but they liked what we had to say about Mission,” said Billinger. “We’re happy to get businesses into town, not just downtown.”
Crawford and Billinger agree the vacancy rate in the downtown core is high.
“The vacancy rate is the highest it has been in a while,” said Billinger. “There are a lot of empties on First Avenue.”
“The vacancy rates are higher than I like, but they’re not unlike other similar-sized communities with a downtown core,” said Crawford. “It’s a challenge for all communities.”
Students at Riverside College developed a database of unused spaces downtown a few months ago for the economic development office, but the information has not yet been verified.
Crawford said it will be easier for investors as well as current residents and business owners to access the economic development office now that it is downtown.
“It will give us more of a presence,” said Crawford, who is sharing the 11,000-sq.ft. building with the Sumas Regional Consortium for High Tech (SRC Tec) now and hopes to attract three or four more tenants to the location.
Crawford noted there are organizations already interested and said there is “lots of synergy.”