Downtown economic health improving: new survey

A new study looking at the economic health of Victoria’s downtown will “dispel the myth” that the core is dying, according to the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

The First Annual Report on Downtown, to be released today by the DVBA, paints a picture of a fairly healthy and diverse economic centre with downtown businesses grading it a B+ as a place to do business.

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There is, after all, always room for improvement.

“I think it shows our members are doing well downtown and that the it is doing well economically,” said Jeff Bray, chief executive of the DVBA.

“A strong majority of our members are stable or grew last year and the same number are planning to grow or stay the same this year.”

The report, prepared by Chemistry Consulting, surveyed the DVBA’s 1,100 members and had 400 responses.

It noted there were 2,039 business licences issued in the downtown and that 63 per cent of respondents reported profit growth in the last year.

It also highlighted the improved landscape with retail vacancy levels at 4.1 per cent in 2018, compared with 8.5 in 2015. Office vacancy rates are at 6.4 per cent, compared to 9.5 three years earlier.

“It dispels the myth that shops are closing or downtown is dying,” said Bray. “The data shows the opposite with record low vacancy rates, growth in retail space being snapped up, commercial space being snapped up, growth in residential and businesses reporting they are doing well or better than a year before.”

The report also highlights the challenges faced by businesses in the core.

It noted parking remains the top concern. The survey indicated 79 per cent of respondents said it’s the main factor hurting their vitality, followed by safety and security, public transportation and cleanliness.

Bray said those answers surprised no one. However, he did note they now have data rather than anecdotal reports, that they can use to push for solutions to the problems.

“This isn’t just someone grumbling at a coffee shop. These are issues that are truly top of mind for our members,” he said. “This gives us the ability to work on those issues on their behalf.”

Bray said the parking issue is probably a long-term fix, as there’s little chance of creating 1,000 parking spots with the snap of a finger.

“We know most of the spots were lost due to private development, but we have to find a way to alleviate that issue,” he said.

He suggested that they could probably make a serious dent on safety and security downtown.

“There are probably strategies we can push to have a positive impact there,” he said. “While downtown is very safe, it is an issue our members are dealing with and I think we can find solutions in the shorter-term, or at least advocate for them.”

Bray said the report will be done annually.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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