Corp Comm Connects

'More skin in the game': Stouffville Chamber of Commerce gets taxpayer money to improve downtown

Town disbanded the Downtown Stouffville Working Group and entered agreement with chamber of commerce to administer the downtown tax levy
May 13, 2021
Simon Martin

How do you solve a problem like Stouffville's struggling downtown core?

First there was a BIA, then there was the Downtown Stouffville Working Group and now Stouffville Chamber of Commerce is the latest group to attempt to crack the mystery of how to create a thriving downtown.

The town announced that it disbanded the Downtown Stouffville Working Group and entered into an agreement with the chamber of commerce to administer $73,000 that comes from the downtown tax levy annually.

Chamber executive director Karen Wootton said it would be a strong support to town businesses in its new role including with delivery of events, new initiatives and activities.

“We have more skin in the game. We survive based on businesses surviving,” Wootton said.

While the current COVID-19 pandemic presents obvious challenges, Wootton envisions bigger and better events for the downtown in the future that help make it more of a destination.

The chamber will assemble a stakeholders advisory committee to help steer the future for its vision of the downtown. “I think they are going to feel more connected and hopefully be more engaged. The chamber is really excited,” Wootton said.

Under the memorandum of understanding with the town, the chamber will be responsible for all day-to-day marketing activities including promoting downtown as a shopping, dining, cultural, and tourist destination.

The chamber will also plan and co-ordinate events that will promote downtown Stouffville as a vibrant place to live, work and play.

The funds to support the MOU come directly from the Downtown Special Levy of $73,000 annually. Additional savings to the town will also be achieved with the elimination of the downtown co-ordinator position.

“The town is thankful for the chamber to begin its work with our downtown businesses, creating a place for residents and visitors to enjoy,” Mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville Iain Lovatt said. “We thank the Downtown Stouffville Working Group for its dedication and hard work over the years in supporting Stouffville’s downtown.”

Not everybody is thrilled with the new direction. Eric Button, who had been part of the Downtown Stouffville Working Group, was shocked at the lack of communication on the matter.

“There was absolutely no consultation with merchants or the DSWG,” he said. Button said merchants are already struggling immensely under the third wave of COVID-19 which has brought in enhanced restrictions. “It's like a curve ball being thrown at us in the middle of hurricane,” he said.

Button also said the chamber's focus is on all businesses in Stouffville and not solely on the downtown. He said the levy is specific for the downtown and the funds being moved with consultation is troubling.

That sentiment was echoed by Red Bulb Espresso owner Cheeyuen Lim, who said there was no consultation with businesses whatsoever.

While the DSWG has been disbanded, Wootton said the stakeholder group they will create quickly will perform as similar role.

Ward 5 Coun. Richard Bartley said the BIA and the DSWG failed to move the yardsticks on making the downtown a destination. “There has been lot of chatter but no action. I think this will get a lot of action,” he said.

Ward 6 Coun. Sue Sherban said she see this move as an improvement for the downtown as businesses can really take advantage of what the chamber has to offer.

In 2019, a survey of downtown businesses showed an ambivalence toward creating a BIA. In the end, more business owners disagreed, 40 per cent, with the notion of forming a BIA or stated “not sure” (34 per cent), than agreed (26 per cent) with a transition to a BIA.

Stouffville had a BIA for the downtown from 1980 to 2009. The town formed the DSWG in 2006, and the BIA was folded into it in 2009.

The new-agreement with the chamber becomes effective June 1, 2021 and is in place until Dec. 31, 2022, with the option for an additional two-year term.