by Deron Johnston
Downtown Kemptville is a unique entity. I’ve heard many different people from across rural Eastern Ontario talk about their struggling downtown areas and the varied reasons for it. From parking issues, to the influx of big box retail, to the slow decline of rural populations, there are many perceived causes for the decline. Often this happens over an extended period of time, making it very difficult to identify the specific causes and the impact that they have individually.
There are also an equal number of solutions usually offered by these same people. These proposed solutions are often very simple in nature, but usually fail to address the complexity of the issues that surround the decline. These issues often get woven together to form a kind of rope that acts as a noose to strangle downtowns slowly over time.
Some people believe that Downtown Kemptville should be more like Merrickville, with its boutique retail shopping. One would have to question that assumption, as Merrickville has its own set of challenges that are unique to their situation. One of the best practices that keeps popping up during research is “to focus on what you have, instead of worrying about what you don’t have.” In other words, the best way to revitalize your downtown is to figure out how to take advantage of the assets that already exist there.
If the decline of downtowns was truly just based on one single issue, then, theoretically, one single solution should solve those problems and the revival would be almost immediate. However, many downtowns have tried single solutions and they’ve had minimal effect on their own. Case in point: a lot of money was spent beautifying downtown Kemptville, including burying hydro wires, new wider sidewalks, decorative lightposts, and facade improvements of downtown buildings. However, despite this investment, it hasn’t solved all of the challenges facing downtown Kemptville.
The practice of recycling the same plans or ideas used by other municipalities isn’t a guaranteed recipe for success either. Those municipalities don’t face the same challenges, or have the same advantages, that we have here, so the solutions need to be more customized, with a “Made In North Grenville” flavour to them. The greatest downtown revitalization success seems to come from having a customized, well organized, coordinated plan of measures that address the specific issues over a defined period of time with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goals and objectives.
With this in mind, it’s time to create a long-term Downtown Kemptville Master Plan. The Municipality of North Grenville has created several of these master plans over the past few years and they appear to be very successful at identifying needs and making sure that resources are used where they’re needed most, etc. Due to its small size in comparison to most other BIAs, the Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area does not have the resources on its own to both create, and execute, a Master Plan. If the municipality was to work with the BIA on both creating this Master Plan, and the execution of it, it would have the best chance for success and the revitalization of Downtown Kemptville.
Lately, if you had to characterize the relationship between the BIA and Council, it would be “it’s complicated”. Maybe a project like this, where the two parties have to collaborate, would be just what the head doctor ordered?