Thursday, June 13, 2024

GDBP releases first ‘visioning’ document of new strategic plan

  • December 20 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

GUYSBOROUGH — To become truly prosperous, welcoming and livable, communities in the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) must set aside their parochial resentments and embrace their future together.

That’s a key message of the Guysborough District Business Partnership’s (GDBP) first strategic plan, a formal “visioning” document, released last week after months of extensive consultations with residents and organizations across the municipality.

“Your communities have every opportunity to succeed, but you need to get out of your own way,” says the report, prepared and written by Doug Griffiths – a former Alberta Minister of Municipal Affairs and one of Canada’s best-known community development consultants. Griffiths had delivered an early version of the plan in a speech at the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex in November.

“Communities still compete with each other and argue about what is fair,” said the report. “Many citizens seem to be waiting for someone else to bring success to the region, but there is also an undercurrent that indicates those same people will resent the success of those others who prosper through strategic investments within the region. Arguments and old grudges from the past tend to dominate discussions rather than conversations about the future.”

Meanwhile, it observed, “You need people to prosper. Housing is in short supply... Your region has few developers and a limited number of trades which means, even as people are willing and excited to invest to increase the housing stock, there are not enough skilled trades available to construct the houses your communities need. People want to come to live or visit, while investors and entrepreneurs want to make money with a growing population and economy, but they can’t because there is nowhere to stay and no one to hire.”

Two vacant properties in downtown Guysborough – the former Rare Bird Pub and Skipping Stone buildings – are “metaphors” for the problem, the report noted. “There is a sense among the public that nothing will improve until the issue of those two buildings is addressed. The use of those two buildings would be wonderful place to start rehabilitating main street Guysborough. [But] overly focusing on those two buildings has caused many other issues to be neglected ... in the middle of [the] path to success is a large stone [the two vacant historic properties] ... Get on with developing ... your region’s future and stop focusing on the stone in the road.”

While it pulls no punches, the slim 26-page report also acknowledges that the MODG has “more going for it” than most communities.

“[Guysborough] harbour stands out as an asset with incredible growth potential,” it stated. “We see the ability to attract yachts and small cruise ships that bring in travellers for concerts, shows, food and relaxation, as well as the ability to add tourism amenities that allow road travelers to access the beautiful waterfront. Pursuing an expansion of the docks, dredging of the harbour, more tourism facility growth and the like could be done with a full-time harbour master, who would also be able to address safety issues and concerns as water traffic increases and more road tourists access the water.”

It said, “What is required is an aggressive main street and harbour plan” for both Guysborough and Canso to jumpstart a new people-friendly, entrepreneurial vision for the entire municipality. Such initiatives would “integrate business and service growth with beautification and events, complete with stunning visuals that help communicate the plan to locals and to potential investors and entrepreneurs... Other communities will grow, and be supported to grow.”

To spur all of this, the report called for new partnerships and programs to help more people acquire key trades and entrepreneurial skills; and marketing and communications specifically targeted at investors and developers.

“You are literally in a situation where, ‘if you build it they will come,’ which means you have the ability to grow in the way you want. You don’t need to compromise beauty for industry, or compromise industry for beauty. You can have both. The only thing holding you back is a clear articulation of the story of who you are becoming as communities and a region, and your decision to get on with becoming it.”

For the GBDP – established as a private-sector-led organization in 2022 through an MODG council initiative to boost local tourism and small business development – the visioning exercise fulfilled a fundamental objective. In its announcement accompanying the report, it said, “This document is our unique playbook. It is a testament to our shared vision for community growth, our diverse needs.”

In an email to The Journal last month, following Griffiths’ presentation, GDBP Executive Director Ashley Cunningham Avery said, “I believe we’ve heard from folks that the community does believe strongly in the content of the plan.”

Councillor Paul Long (Guysborough, Erinville, Guysborough Intervale) told The Journal in an email that he believed the plan presented a realistic overview of “who we are and who we can become.” But, while the report suggests “a multitude of ways for MODG to move forward,” he noted, “The reality is that the process has started already. Many of the milestones mentioned have had some impressive beginnings, with housing needs on the forefront.”

Added Warden Vernon Pitts: “In many ways we have already started that work [on] the main street and a harbour development plan for Canso and Guysborough. In Canso, we have the new kiosks and boardwalks installed, and a new slipway for the fishery and pleasure boats is currently being installed. In Guysborough, we have the new sidewalks that are being finished to go along with the new kiosks on the waterfront. There is also the Mulgrave Road Theatre development among other projects are in the offing.”

Both added that attracting people and business remains a priority. “In a general sense, I’d say that we welcome Doug’s input,” said Pitts. “There is much work to do, and council is focussed on our entire municipality.”