Esquimalt 'brand' needs lift, report says

Esquimalt continues to suffer from an image problem that could be addressed through everything from updating the community’s "brand" to initiatives such as realtor bus tours and supporting arts and cultural events, says an economic development strategy, two years in the making.

“Community image was an issue that came up at every discussion during the community consultation process,” says the strategy endorsed by councillors this week.

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Possible strategies to address the issue include promoting Esquimalt as the “best place to live” to target audiences such as employees at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, local realtors and people living outside the region.

“Anybody who has come to Esquimalt to live from any other place in the region, and I hear this over and over again, they are absolutely astounded how beautiful and wonderful [Esquimalt] is. It was the perception that kept them away so long,” Mayor Barb Desjardins said.

“So it’s key to us to change the dialogue out there and we can do it in a number of ways.”

The strategy was developed over two years through input from industry, local businesses, community groups and residents.

It outlines 15 strategies targeting four areas: business attraction and retention, commercial and industrial revitalization, community image, and quality of life.

The document makes it clear that there is no single magic bullet to revitalizing the community, and that various sectors will have to pull together in the same direction, Desjardins said.

“In terms of looking at Esquimalt beautification, we’ve done that well on Esquimalt Road, [and] now we need to encourage the businesses to step up so it’s a welcoming place to come into,” she said.

“The perceptions that people living elsewhere [have] about Esquimalt being less safe or a rough town — those are absolute nonsense and those that live here know it. We have to convey that information outside now.”

The Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce is expected to lead some aspects of the strategy, such as a shop-local campaign.

Like community image, the report says, discussions and actions to improve the quality of life for Esquimalt residents came up during every sector discussion. Eight strategies are suggested, including promotion of local arts and culture events; promotion of local and military history and marine recreational opportunities, including a a non-motorized boat launch; advancing community health and safety and promoting green activities both at home and at work.

It proposes revitalizing Esquimalt Road to give a more “village feel as a family-friendly stroll and shopping area” through such measures as a business revitalization tax program, implementation of a storefront cleanup program and possibly encouraging a business or property owner to participate in a “makeover” reality TV show.

The strategy also identifies a number of threats to Esquimalt’s “resources, opportunities or values,” including:

• Community image, including misinformation on Esquimalt in the media.

• Slow economic growth since the global recession.

• Declining enrolment in schools.

• Limited understanding around the impact of the ship repair and fitting industry on the local economy; anticipated gaps in availability of skilled labour and local services to meet future needs of the ship repair industry.

• Vulnerability to threats such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

• Aging infrastructure with limited capacity; mandated secondary sewage treatment.

• Land base — Need for large and secure industrial land base to expand ship repair industry

• A declining and aging population.

• Decrease in tourism spending.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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