A local blogger has asked all the candidates for their thoughts on Open Air Weekends and debt control. Here are my answers:
Question: What are your thoughts about Open Air? If you would modify it, specifically how would you do so? Timing? Footprint?
Open Air Weekends has improved each and every year and it still hasn’t reached its potential.
The event lifted our Town up at a time when we needed it most and it has continued to provide residents and tourists alike with a unique and memorable experience. Open Air Weekends sets Amherstburg apart from other communities competing for tourism dollars. It has created a bustling, vibrant atmosphere that will allow a hotel to not only open downtown, but flourish.
I’ve been astounded this year to see how many more teens and younger kids are playing street chess, ping pong and corn hole instead of sitting at home and staring into their phone. They come to Open Air on their feet, their scooters and their bikes and they get fresh air and exercise in the open and in the community, away from isolation and away from trouble.
Open Air Weekends has provided our youth a safe place to gather. It has become a family-friendly attraction in a Town with so few things for our youth to do. I think we need to embrace that energy and that momentum, creating even more programming for our kids and young families.
Businesses have become better and better at activating the street outside their shops and I look forward to seeing them invest and innovate even more to draw more people to Amherstburg and make the attraction even more successful.
Two Play Amherstburg events hosted last summer were wildly popular and I would like to see similar events in the future. Sunday Storytime hosted by River Bookshop is just one excellent example of a business enhancing the event and I look forward to reading to the kids on Sunday, Sept. 18th.
Open Air Weekends puts Amherstburg on the map for all the right reasons. All summer long, I saw people taking selfies in front of those colourful murals or families taking pictures and videos of their children playing street games or of Bagpipes in the ‘Burg, which is back again on Friday, Sept. 23.
All those photos and clips were emailed to friends and loved ones or posted to Instagram or Facebook, landing in inboxes and showing up in social media feeds as invitations to come and visit Amherstburg. The buzz will just keep building, like ripples from a pebble tossed into a pond.
We focus so much on finding the silver bullet when it comes to economic development that we sometimes forget we’re sitting on a gold mine. Our history and heritage. Our stunning waterfront. Our vibrant downtown. Our incredible tourism potential. Let’s promote it, let’s invest in it, let’s celebrate it, let’s Go Aburg.
Question #2: How will you balance debt control and investing in the town’s future?
Amherstburg has more debt and less in reserves than our peer municipalities. We have made great strides addressing these issues while still making significant infrastructure investments and attracting residential and commercial development. We need to keep that momentum going.
Any discussion about new debt must take our existing debt into account along with the annual operating costs of servicing debt, which can be significant in an era of rising interest rates. That discussion must also factor in the opportunity cost of not proceeding with a project because of an unwillingness to take on debt.
Debt can be an effective tool to ensure vital projects proceed in a timely manner. In some cases, the economic development potential of a project and the lift it would provide the Town might warrant taking on new debt. But debt must be taken on judiciously and only after a careful cost-benefit analysis.
In terms of investing in the future, we need to continue promoting Amherstburg as a tourist destination, a welcoming community for retirees, and a place where young families can enjoy first-class amenities, like parks, trails, a spectacular waterfront and a downtown bursting with murals, shops and foot traffic.
Amherstburg’s “ability to sustain itself as a standalone, full-service municipality is at risk unless the municipality’s population and assessment base grow,” warned a report from a third-party firm with expertise in municipal governance.
We need to continue expanding our tax base by promoting and carefully managing residential growth, that, in turn, will generate more commercial investment. Multiple commercial operations have opened their doors over the past four years, more are soon to follow, and we need to capitalize on that momentum.
We must also work hard to attract more industrial development. The Community Improvement Project Area recently approved by Council is the crucial first step in finalizing a Community Improvement Plan the Town can use to attract industry, leveraging our skilled workforce and our proximity to the border and large-scale regional developments like the battery plant. As well, we can tout our high speed internet to attract remote workers and firms connected to the emerging financial and technical cluster in Detroit.
It won’t be easy. Municipalities across Ontario are all chasing the same investment dollar. The key is marketing ourselves as a vibrant, family-friendly community with a rich history, boundless potential and a quality of life that is second to none.
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