While work on the Green Line up Centre Street is still years away, the executive director of a new business improvement area (BIA) said there’s another pressing matter to deal with.
When Crescent Heights businesses started joining together with the idea of BIA in 2018, they wanted to present a united front in discussions with the city on the Green Line.
But, Camie Leard the Crescent Heights Village BIA executive director, said now they have more pressing needs.
“The immediate concern is COVID, and really standing for the small business owners in conversations with the various levels of government for support through crisis,” said Leard, who took over the inaugural post April 15.
They’ll be talking with all the area businesses owners about what they need immediately and what they’ll need for the COVID-19 recovery.
Coun. Druh Farrell, who at one point was the executive director of the Kensington Business Revitalization Zone (BRZ), said these groups are critical in times of crisis – like the current coronavirus pandemic.
“They help coalesce a point of view and represent their point of view to other orders of government,” said Farrell.
“They’re important advocates, and they help focus the feedback through to the city through one point person.”
Green Line a longer-term focus, built on overall Crescent Heights improvement
Looking past the immediate term though, Coun. Farrell said this group is going to be integral in shaping the Green Line corridor.
Whether it’s pedestrian safety, the public realm or the fractured land use issues to wade through, the BIA is going to have its hands full, Farrell said.
“There are a number of opportunities there and we just have to make sure that we meet those obligations,” Farrell said.
“And we’ve committed to the community that we will, we just have to make sure that we keep our promises.”
Leard said with the shift in focus to the at-grade Green Line, they need to ensure the city captures the spirit of the community.
“We need to really make sure we’re working with the city to ensure the revamping – the look and the feel of Centre Street that happens with that development – reflects that special history as a village, as a place where diverse communities come together as kind of the gateway,” she said.
Green Line a big opportunity with short term challenges
Eventual Green Line construction and the potential foot traffic it brings to the area is a long-term benefit, Leard said. With some short-term bumps along the way.
Leard said with the construction challenges, one of their primary areas of focus will be making sure the businesses survive. Many businesses along 17 Avenue SW expressed concern about access during that roadway’s reconstruction over the past two years.
“We really see our role at the CIA as doing everything we possibly can to ensure that this business access is maintained,” she said.
Farrell said she’s advocated for a Portland-style approach to the construction of these projects that can significantly impact local business. She’s hoping to see an approach like that adopted for the Green Line’s bisection of Crescent Heights.
“I still believe in the Green Line. I believe it will be good for Center Street. Center Street is already struggling so it could help inject some new life,” she said.
“But it’s critical that we take care of business before, during and after construction.”
‘I love a challenge.‘
Leard’s been on the job for barely a week. She took on the role because it presented an amazing challenge – and opportunity.
Crescent Heights is a diverse community where the past meets the present that’s negotiating a future, she said. There are more than 100 small businesses in the corridor, with an area history going back more than a century.
While she’s a life-long Calgarian and has many friends and connections in the area, Leard doesn’t live in the community.
To her, that allows her to bring in an outsider’s perspective on how the community can move forward.
“It also gives the opportunity for me to really come in with a clean slate on my end, but no previous sort of baggage or preconceptions or politics or anything like that,” she said.
“I can really listen to people; really hear where they’re coming from.”
It’s a project she’s ready to tackle.
“I love a challenge. There are some challenges with this position. One of my favorite things is building communities and connecting people,” she said.
“There’s a lot to be done here in Crescent Heights. I’m just really ready to kind of roll up my sleeves and take it on.”