A declining downtown has been a major problem for a long time in our town. There are no simple answers, but the Town needs a strategy and a plan for rebuilding the downtown. The town took the first move in this direction in 2017 when it recruited an Economic Development Officer and formed an Economic Development Committee. The committee has taken a lot of steps to enhance the present business climate, but there is still a long way to go. A regional cooperation meeting and a community forum that brought together key stakeholders were good first steps.
Cooperation and planning at the regional level are essential to bolster and expand the regional economy. However, regional planning and projects frequently include multiple area councils and require time. In addition to regional planning, the town also engages in local economic planning for the community. Town Council owns commercial property and lots in the downtown and has the authority to plan and make decisions affecting the downtown. They can establish lot pricing and tax benefits, as well as market the opportunities they create.
I was reading a 2013 CBC article about the Alberta town of Mundare. Before the story was published, the town's downtown contained a dozen vacant commercial lots. The Mundare Town Council adopted incentives to attract businesses to the town. They approved a $1.00 per lot price and offered additional property tax incentives in order to attract businesses that fit the needs of the town. According to the article, the strategy had strong community support and utilized the news media as part of its marketing strategy.
In 2022, their website reports that "all available lots have been sold, and there is a waiting list of people interested in purchasing should previous buyers choose not to proceed." It clearly took time to rebuild their downtown, but it all started with a local plan.
Obviously, Gull Lake's business needs would differ from Mundaire's, but a local plan worked for Mundaire and may work for Gull Lake as well.. The Economic Development Committee can work with the Town Council to design a downtown revitalization strategy and communicate that strategy to the community. It all starts with a plan.