PORT HARDY—Several well-known North Islanders gathered to chart a course for economic wellness in increasingly tough times and the consensus was Port Hardy needs a makeover.
Khris Singh, regional manager of the RuralBC Secretariat — a provincial organization designed to help and guide rural B.C. communities — joined Mayor Bev Parnham and eight other community leaders last week at Port Hardy council chambers for a round table discussion on an economic plan for the future, one that includes luring investment to the Port Hardy.
It was agreed one key element to luring new investors and their money was to present the town in the best possible light, something made difficult by the run down condition of the downtown area.
Yana Hrdy, who runs the tourist centre, said summer’s tourists were asked to fill out a survey to answer questions about their impressions of Port Hardy.
“We get more than 20,000 visitors (over the course of the summer),” said Hrdy, who noted the the results were less than encouraging.
“The outcome (of the survey) was Port Hardy is a dying and depressing town,” she said.
Much of that could be attributed to vacant and run down buildings, some owned by people who don’t live in the area.
“Other towns don’t put up with it, they just don’t put up with it,” said James Emery, president of the chamber of commerce.
But the mayor said council could do little to force the owners to clean their properties.
“We have absolutely no teeth,” said Parnham, who noted the town has no bylaws or fine options that apply.
Members also talked about the former Sea Gate hotel property, which has become an eyesore.
The Sea Gate has been a “huge sink hole,” said Port Hardy’s chief administrative officer, Rick Davidge, who noted “thousands and thousands of dollars” and untold hours of staff time have been devoted to the problem.
Lyn Barton, of North Vancouver Island Artist’s Society, asked if the area could be picked up as a revitalization project and Singh quickly added there may be provincial cash available to remediate such “brownfield” sites.
Talk again came around to sprucing up the town as a ways of luring potential investors who may be interested in the Sea Gate site.
“The Sea Gate property will look more attractive (to potential investors) if our downtown was more attractive,” said Parnham.
One major tool to lure new investments is a Grade A town website, one Port Hardy does not have.
“The current one is dated,” said Patti Smedley, Port Hardy’s economic and community development coordinator for the District of Port Hardy
There is no real up-to-date material for potential investors,” said Patti Smedley, who spoke to the group by telephone from a remote location.
“You don’t have to be big to attract attention.”
Parnham said the district will look for someone to build a new website, “something very creative” to market Port Hardy in Canada and to foreign markets.
“Investors need that information to understand the community,” said Singh.
Meanwhile, even though he realizes it’s only cosmetic, Emerson said he hopes to have “50 or 60” people ready to paint the town in the spring.
“Bigger projects are important, but the lipstick is too,” he said.
More meetings to discuss the issue will be held in the future.