‘It just needs a bit of love’: ByWard Market businesses back proposed new governance structure

Business owners are applauding a proposal to dissolve the ByWard Market BIA in favour of a new municipal services corporation structure.

The structure, announced Wednesday at the BIA board meeting, would replace the current BIA and Ottawa Markets, which is responsible for operations in the Market. The goal behind the proposed new structure is to align area operations, marketing, programming and advocacy under a single entity.

“We want to see change because what’s happening now is not good,” said John Borsten, the owner or co-owner of Zak’s Diner, The Grand Pizzeria & Bar, Starling and the Metropolitain Brasserie, all cornerstone eateries in the Market, and a BIA board member. “It isn’t a hostile takeover.

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“The problem right now is the Market is treated as just another part of the city, with the same service level as Bank Street or Nepean,” he said.

“We get 40,000 people here on a July Saturday and the garbage is all over the place and you have to go to some department to get it cleared,” he said. “It’s in need of care and this will hopefully help facilitate that.”

The ByWard Market BIA has been doing “an amazing job” with branding the area as a tourist destination “for decades,” said Michelle Groulx, president of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas (OCOBIA). 

“But then what surfaced and what the city was talking about was there was a corporation of Ottawa Markets, so two entities within this area, and sometimes you need to combine them in order to make a big voice and impact,” she said. 

While the move is still in its strategic review and assessment phase, Groulx hopes that the new entity will have more authority than a BIA when it comes to boosting the area. BIAs have limited power when it comes to certain issues like infrastructure, which fall to city authorities, she said. Shutting down a street for an event, coordinating waste collection and other priorities for the community will be easier to address with this new authority, she added.

Jacquie LaRocque is a public affairs counsellor and founder and principal of Compass Rose, a government relations firm based in the Market. She’s focused on the growth and “rejuvenation” of the Market, whether it comes from this new entity or the city itself.

Along with other community leaders and advocates, LaRocque presented ideas and priorities to Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe at the Mayor’s Economic Summit last month. Among the priorities she proposed were long-term investments, designated foot patrol, realignment of social services, and creating an “authentic experience” for visitors and locals. 

“We’re really looking at what the plan is for rejuvenating the district, moving from a lighter version of action to something longer and deeper that will affect the fabric of the area,” she told OBJ. Urgent priorities for her include safety and security, whereas more long-term ideas involve “transformational” investment opportunities. All in all, she said, transforming the ByWard Market is a “deeper conversation.”

The new structure would mean that the mayor or a mayor’s designate will sit on the governing board. While the BIA board had a non-voting representative from the city, the new governance structure would include a seat for the mayor’s office “to communicate the stature of what this authority will be,” said Groulx.

“If anything, it states the attention and care that this area needs,” Groulx said. “It will have at its disposal people on board who can get results and change and make this a shining star in the city … It’s an understanding that this is being heard from the very top and has the ability to be acted on, so I think it’s really huge.”

Board members of the existing BIA will be involved in the transition and in making sure businesses are well-represented, Groulx added. 

“Being able to push things ahead and get change done takes a bit more involvement and the Market is looking for that mandate and all of Ottawa should be behind and support this district,” said Groulx. “It just needs a bit of love.”

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