Sean Chase, Daily Observer
Friday, October 19, 2012
PEMBROKE – To survive in this economy,
business and community leaders in Renfrew
County must be prepared
to accept change, says the man who brought the Ottawa Senators back to the NHL.
Firestone told a gathering of small business owners and entrepreneurs Thursday
that municipal councils need to throw out their zoning bylaws in order to
reinvigorate downtowns suffering from degradation.
many ways, villages and towns should aspire to become the Bedford
Falls of “It’s a Wonderful Life,”
insisted the real estate developer who led the effort to successfully win an
NHL franchise for Ottawa
over 20 years ago.
built better cities in the 1930s than we do today,” said Mr. Firestone, who
delivered his keynote address to the annual Bridges to Better Business
conference at the Pembroke Best Western. “If you go down main street after main
street you are going to see billiard halls, pawn shops, vacancies and girlie
clubs. Nothing of that is going to work. You should take your zoning codes,
burn them and let people live there and do their thing, and then the coffee
shops will come.”
happened is that architects stopped planning urban spaces and municipal
planners took over, said Mr. Firestone, adding, as an example, that many public
places in Ottawa
are deserted because there are no vendors or attractions to draw the people in.
Today, planners would rather tear down landmarks to make way for commercial
businesses or franchises in order to capitalize on the property taxes they will
bring in. While the added revenue is nice, he said it wastes the opportunity to
make these downtown cores more attractive for visitors.
event, which had 156 people registered, was hosted by Enterprise Renfrew
County in partnership
with the Upper Ottawa Valley Chamber of Commerce. The day-long conference included
a panel of entrepreneurs that discussed strategies they used to aid in their
success, a trade show and interactive learning session.
a great opportunity to bring businesses together to hear from other
entrepreneurs,” Lorraine Mackenzie, executive director of the Upper Ottawa
Valley Chamber of Commerce.
his vast experience as president of Terrace Investments and his efforts not
only with the Senators but the Ottawa Rough Riders, Mr. Firestone provided the
audience with ideas and concepts he believes will improve the region’s economic
prospects. What the business community needs to figure out, he added, is how
does the county cope with the change that is inevitable to keep them
competitive in the marketplace. He believes the addition of the Ottawa Senators
to the NHL in 1992 made the national capital a tier one destination for major
corporations who would only be attracted to places with major sports
felt the Sens would have an impact on the community,” he said. “We had an impact
way beyond having a team to cheer for. We brought people together and they
thought they were part of something bigger than themselves.”
this region to realize its full potential, it will require a unified effort
that everyone can get behind, much in the same way Ottawans came together for
this fledgling hockey team.
“We have to have a feeling in this community, in Renfrew County,
that we’re part of something special and if we don’t get that it’s going to be
very difficult to change the psychology of the community and its economic
prospects,” said Mr. Firestone noting future generations need a reason to
invest their lives and dollars here. “If you don’t create economic opportunity
you are going to lose your young people to Ottawa.”
Firestone pointed out that waiting for government funding through grants is not
necessarily the answer adding self capitalization will help businesses get off
money can be useful in small dribs and drabs at crucial stages, but often the
greatest, hardest, strongest enterprises in your community are started with
nothing,“ he said.
Today, communities are better off investing in leisure, art, design,
entertainment, events, museums and meeting places. He explained that every
visitor to Renfrew
County will spend an
estimated $100 per day. Any business, even office buildings, can incorporate
some leisure component, he added.
Firestone recommended the county stop printing brochures and develop its own
app, form a group of mentors who can assist and advice new entrepreneurs, and
make physical changes to how its downtown cores look.
must make a physical change to your community because a physical change is an
indication to people that you care about your community, that you are serious
about change,“ he said.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer
sean.chase @ sunmedia.ca