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Narrow vote opens new chapter for Belleville Downtown Improvement Area

Chair of the Belleville Downtown Improvement Area Dwane Barratt, speaks to city council about recent issues and successes in the downtown. Photo by Justin Medve, QNet News

By Justin Medve [1]

BELLEVILLE – Both the trials and triumphs of Belleville Downtown Improvement Area [2] members were at the forefront of city council’s meeting Monday afternoon.

The newly-appointed [3] chair of the BDIA board, Dwane Barratt, of Barratt’s Office Pro [4], began his speech to the council by recognizing recent staffing issues, which he called the elephant in the room.

“It’s public knowledge that we’ve had staffing issues and we are addressing those issues now,” he said.

Five BDIA board members recently resigned their positions: three who didn’t appreciate board election results and one who couldn’t handle the politics that were going on, Barratt said. Another member left after starting a job outside of the downtown. The BDIA was left with only six of its 11 seats filled.

Barratt explained these issues were in the past, and there are three new members ready to join the board subject to city council’s approval.

“Action is what’s needed. It’s not uncommon for board members to resign,” he said.

Barratt went on to highlight a working relationship with the city that is leading to more special events [5] and a smooth transition into phase three of Build Belleville [6], a major revitalization project involving the downtown.

Filling vacant buildings will also be a focus, Barratt said.  These empty storefronts take up 24 percent or nearly one-quarter of business space in the downtown.

But some councillors wanted to be sure the city’s downtown investment is still being managed properly by the group.

Coun. Mitch Panciuk [7], who is on the BDIA as a representative of the city, read council an e-mail he wrote to current and previous board members at the end of January. It expressed concern BDIA’s “operational deficiencies” were leaving downtown rejuvenation “in danger of being squandered.”

“The City of Belleville has invested significant financial resources to improve the infrastructure of the downtown core and requires the BDIA to fulfill their responsibilities to rejuvenate this area,” he said. “I do not see the current direction of the board to be one which will fulfil those responsibilities.”

Panciuk also wrote he would not attend further BDIA board meetings unless a general membership meeting occurred first. He determined that the BDIA would not have the minimal requirement of members on its board to conduct business if he was not there. Other BDIA members also demanded a membership meeting to occur, he said.

On the other hand, Coun. Egerton Boyce [8] said he felt that the BDIA’s election process was fair and that a negative spotlight from Panciuk was not needed.

“I hate to see these kind of things brought up to tarnish these volunteers that don’t get paid; that are doing this to better the city,” he said. “Basically, I think we’ve sunk to a new low.”

Coun. Paul Carr [9] took his turn to speak of the city’s $34-million investment in the downtown, saying it could no longer be business as usual to get the results council is expecting. The BDIA needs to step up and pitch in if the downtown is going to succeed, he said.

“That’s a significant investment,” Carr said. “Our investment stops at the sidewalk when it ends. And every building owner, every store owner, needs to pick up.”

He reminded council that every taxpayer in the city is following the downtown’s growth closely.

Councillors Carr, Kelly McCaw, Jack Miller and Panciuk voted against the appointment of new members to the BDIA. Councillors Jackie Denyes, Mike Graham, Garnet Thompson, Boyce and Mayor Taso Christopher, voted in favour. The by-law amendment was approved in a narrow vote of five to four.

Later in the meeting, a discussion arose regarding the council’s representation on the BDIA. It was suggested by Denyes that the mayor would fill the role. Panciuk interjected, saying he would continue to work for the repopulated board.

“I don’t want to see it (the downtown) held back because of questions regarding the legitimacy of the BDIA board,” Panciuk said.

Barratt said the remaining two vacancies on the BDIA board would be presented to council for approval when it meets again in March.