Tourism expert to analyze Okotoks downtown

Okotoks: Residents invited to hear results and suggestions

By: Roxanne Blackwell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 03:53 pm

A town employee cuts the lawn on the downtown landmark site. The Okotoks Network is hoping to turn the site into a plaza, and is looking forward to Roger Brooks' imput on the idea.
A town employee cuts the lawn on the downtown landmark site. The Okotoks Network is hoping to turn the site into a plaza, and is looking forward to Roger Brooks' imput on the idea.
JORDAN VERLAGE/OWW

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A group of residents is looking to revamp Okotoks’ downtown atmosphere, and its bringing in a pro to help.

The Okotoks Network and the Town are bringing tourism expert and marketing guru Roger Brooks to do a community assessment of the community, with the primary focus on the downtown area.

Brooks’ website describes his assessments as coming through the eyes of a first-time visitor who will shop eat and experience the town. He then explains how to get people to come, spend more money, stay longer, and maybe even move there permanently.

Mark Rowed with the Okotoks Network said the group’s specific focus is on the landmark site in Olde Towne Okotoks at the intersection of Clark Avenue and McRae Street. The network was able to convince the Town to take the property off of the market a year ago, as they are hoping the space will ultimately be used for a town plaza.

“We recommended to the Town that they should look at maybe hiring Roger Brooks to look at our downtown and see what his thoughts were around making the site a plaza. His research has found that one of the components of a vibrant downtown is a plaza,” Rowed said.

The idea is to create a gathering space for people to meet and hold events downtown. The network is hoping a plaza could help spur a more vibrant downtown nightlife.

“The network is about socially connecting people’s neighbourhoods … and a downtown is a place where community can gather,” said Rowed. “Our research shows that creating a vitalized downtown is a top issue for Albertans. It always shows up as one of the top three priorities for a community to work on. Biggest thing is getting the downtown business community and people excited about creating a vibrant downtown.”

High River utilized Brooks’ services in 2012 but decided against bringing him to town because of the $30,000 price tag, instead opting for a webinar option.

But Rowed said they felt it was important for Brooks to come to Okotoks, so they decided to contribute $6,000 towards the visit so he can better understand what it is that Okotoks needs moving forward.

“There’s some value in having him see the town,” Rowed said. “He’ll find the things in a community that makes us unique, I think it’s important for him to be here to experience the community.”

Shane Olson, Okotoks economic development team leader, said he and other town employees have previously seen Brooks speak in Alberta, and the Town had been considering bringing Brooks in for a community assessment for a few years.

The funds were requested and approved by council last November, so when the Okotoks Network came forward and was willing to pitch in additional funds for the specific landmark plaza assessment, the Town decided it was time to bring Brooks in.

“It’s the perfect time to do it as we lead into the community visioning session for Okotoks, now is the time to look at how we can improve the downtown and the entire community,” Olson said. “We know that 60 per cent of all consumer spending in North America happens after 6 p.m. In a commuter community where we have 7-8,000 commuters that go to Calgary, many don’t get home until that time. How do we educate and motivate, and what are the obstacles that businesses have to have those hours?”

In a video on his website, Brooks said they start by looking at where a town’s welcome sign is, and recommends the sign should be positioned where it makes the best first impression rather than city limits. He also claims two-hour parking is the biggest killer of any tourism and downtown shopping experience – both things that Okotoks currently has.

Olson said the Town is aware of some improvements that could be made to the downtown, and are looking forward to Brooks’ honest assessment to help them reinforce some of their ideas.

“He's going to talk about curb appeal, mix of land use downtown, signage, pedestrian accessibility, hours of operations, all these kinds of things that really make an outstanding community,” Olson said. “It's all about how do we make an outstanding community not just for visitors and businesses, but residents as well.”

A free event will be held for the public on Aug. 28 at the Rotary Performing Arts Centre where Brooks will be presenting his findings. The event begins at 8:30-11 a.m. with a light breakfast being served beforehand. There is limited seating for 200 people, so the Town is asking people to register beforehand at www.okotoksventure.ca.


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