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‘Real challenge’ to get shoppers to Sidney: business professor

The planned Gateway Village commercial development will likely draw shoppers from Sidney’s downtown but is unlikely to lure many from farther afield, a business professor says. Mark Colgate, associate dean at the University of Victoria’s Peter B.
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Site of the proposed $35-million Gateway commercial project on airport land.

The planned Gateway Village commercial development will likely draw shoppers from Sidney’s downtown but is unlikely to lure many from farther afield, a business professor says.

Mark Colgate, associate dean at the University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, said some people may go to Gateway and flow into the downtown.

But, he said, “I think the far bigger flow of customers will be people who used to shop in Sidney downtown and now decide Sidney Gateway is a one-stop shop.”

That view contrasts with developer Omicron, which predicts its 100,000-square-foot centre, located on the south side of the Beacon Avenue-Patricia Bay Highway intersection, will benefit Sidney’s existing downtown by bringing in shoppers from areas such as Victoria, Colwood and Langford.

The 10-acre development site has been excluded from the Agricultural Land Reserve, paving the way for rezoning and Official Community Plan amendment applications to Sidney council.

If approved, the $35-million project will go ahead on leased airport land.

On the plus side, Colgate said, shoppers may be more likely to shop locally rather than at malls elsewhere, thus keeping dollars in that community.

“I think that is definitely a nice benefit,” he said. “Will they see more money flowing from outside Sidney? I think that will be a real challenge.”

Gateway Village will have a grocery store as an anchor tenant. Grocery stores are geared to convenience shopping, typically serving their own neighbourhoods, Colgate said.

“I don’t think they are going to attract a huge audience from outside unless they have some stores that you can’t get elsewhere.”

The development would be located across the Patricia Bay Highway from Sidney’s seven-block-long business district, raising fears that the downtown could be gutted. Many of those businesses are locally owned.

Susan Simosko, president of the Sidney Business Improvement Association, said the board is not taking a position on the Gateway project now as it waits for more information.

Cliff McNeil-Smith, owner of Tanner’s Books on Beacon Avenue and a former Sidney councillor, is “strongly opposed” to the project.

It comes as Sidney’s downtown vacancy rate is at a historic high with 45 commercial vacancies, he said.

Existing businesses are already competitive in the wake of the past recession, he said, adding this is not the time to add a major chunk of retail space on the other side of the highway.

Richard Holmes, who owns two buildings on Beacon Avenue, is also concerned about vacancy rates and fears the Gateway centre will threaten downtown’s viability. He dropped rents by 15 per cent about a year and a half ago.

Holmes said a cluster of factory outlet stores — rather than the planned mix of retail and professional services — would be unique and attract shoppers from throughout the region.

Such a project would not compete directly with existing Sidney businesses.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

Sidney Gateway project graphic