Carolyn Davies

Economic Development Advisory Committee wants council to revisit Ribfest sign issue

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town’s economic development advisory committee plans to appear before council to ask that the issue of the Rotary Ribfest sign issue be revisited.

The Ribfest committee, which operates under the umbrella of the Rotary Club of Amherstburg, asked for an extension from 14 days to 28 days prior to their July 7-9 event to better promote the festival but were refused at the March 22 meeting. A motion from Councillor Leo Meloche that night failed to get a seconder.

Carl Gibb, Ribfest committee chair, appeared before the economic development committee and noted the signs “are very important to us” and used the example of the Rotary Club’s recent pasta dinner to show how important signs are to them.

Without a roadside sign, Gibb told the committee that attendance dropped.

Gibb said they would put up ten larger signs around the town in the past and took them down immediately after the event. The club currently cannot have the smaller push-in lawn signs erected on homeowners’ properties as well.

“These are not ugly signs. They are not bristol board with magic marker,” said Gibb. “We spent a lot of money on these signs.”

It was “amazing” to Gibb that the push-in lawn signs are not allowed on residential property. He added they could put up signs in other communities, but not Amherstburg until 14 days before the event.

“It’s frustrating. I don’t know what we are going to do,” said Gibb. “If attendance is down, we may go to another municipality.”

Members of the Rotary Ribfest Committee, an event that operates under the umbrella of the Amherstburg Rotary Club, are disappointed with the guidelines they have to operate under to comply with the sign bylaw. Town council upheld the current sign bylaw at the March 20 meeting.

Members of the Rotary Ribfest Committee, an event that operates under the umbrella of the Amherstburg Rotary Club, are disappointed with the guidelines they have to operate under to comply with the sign bylaw. Town council upheld the current sign bylaw at the March 20 meeting.

Gibb said that two weeks is “not enough” for people to be aware of an upcoming event. He said they are not trying to threaten council, but noted the committee puts a lot of time and effort planning the festival.

“If the numbers aren’t there, you can’t sustain it. That’s a fair statement and not a threat,” replied Meloche.

Manager of licensing and enforcement Nicole Rubli said that section of the bylaw has been in place since 2006. She noted the bylaw department is “complaint driven” and there were concerns about an abundance of signage last year with Communities in Bloom judges coming.

The town is participating in Communities in Bloom again this year. Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale pointed out that Communities in Bloom and Ribfest did not occur at the same time last year.

Rubli said there were also concerns about signs for multiple events being up simultaneously.

“Because the town is blessed with so many events, there could be a lot of signs up at one time essentially promoting six different events as timelines overlap,” she said.

Meloche believed such restrictions like the town has in place limits freedom of expression and believed it should be pointed out that the town risks losing Ribfest.

Carolyn Davies, president of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce and that organization’s appointee to the committee, wondered if distance between signs could resolve the issue.

“Maybe it’s a matter of limiting the number of signs,” she said.

Economic Development Advisory Committee chair Bob Rozankovic said the issue at hand was the 14-day extension.

“I support the bylaw the way it is. I support its intent,” said Rozankovic, but said the spirit of the bylaw must also be considered.

“This bylaw does create opportunities for exemptions,” said Rozankovic.

Rozankovic believed any court in the land would uphold an exemption, particularly for a worthy cause.

Davies said there was little to do in Amherstburg when she arrived 20 years ago and “by 2006, we still didn’t have very much.” Things have changed since 2006 and she believed the bylaw needs more updating, particularly since the tourism component to Amherstburg has evolved.

“I think this bylaw is archaic,” said Davies. “It needs to be redeveloped. We’re dealing with a different era than when it was written in 2006.”

The committee, led by Rozankovic, plan to appear before town council April 24 regarding extending the period for Ribfest signs to 28 days.

The Ribfest is scheduled for July 7-9 at Centennial Park.

About 500 from Windsor-Essex County attend Holiday House Tours

 

By Ron Giofu

 

People from Amherstburg and surrounding municipalities streamed through the ten houses that were decorated and on display for the Holiday House Tours.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo snaps a photo on his phone of some of the decorations at the Bondy House Bed & Breakfast. DiCarlo and wife Laura were two of the roughly 500 people that toured the ten locations that were decorated for Christmas.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo snaps a photo on his phone of some of the decorations at the Bondy House Bed & Breakfast. DiCarlo and wife Laura were two of the roughly 500 people that toured the ten locations that were decorated for Christmas.

The house tours, a part of the ongoing River Lights Winter Festival, saw ten houses on display with nine of them being private homes and the tenth being the Park House Museum. Monica Bunde, who helped co-ordinate the tours and was a decorator of one of the homes, said the Park House was the “tea room” stop on the tour with the other homes being clustered around the municipality.

The homes were decorated either by local businesses, by decorators or the homeowners themselves.

“We’ve expanded the footprint this year,” said Bunde. “We’ve expanded outside of the downtown core so people get the feel for all of Amherstburg.”

The homes were concentrated in different areas of the town with four, counting the Park House, being within walking distance in the Dalhousie St./Rankin Ave. area, three more within Amherst Pointe, one at the corner of Alma and Victoria St. S. and the other two in the former Anderdon Township.

Debbie Scott and Suzanne Shepley volunteered at the home on Front Road South.

Debbie Scott and Suzanne Shepley volunteered at the home on Front Road South.

“It made it easier,” explained Bunde. “You can park and walk to see three or four homes then go to the next section.”

Bunde said they not only wanted visitors to see the homes themselves, but visit the boutiques and restaurants in Amherstburg as well.

“People have been booking lunch or dinner,” added Anne Rota, the town’s manager of tourism and culture. “It’s a package. It’s not just looking at the homes. It’s an economic stimulus for the town.”

Homes that were considered somewhat “iconic” were featured on this year’s Holiday House Tour. Bunde said many of the homes have been the subject of people wondering what they looked like on the inside and the house tours gave people that glimpse.

A Park Ave. home was decorated on two floors, with the photo being taken on an upper floor.

A Park Ave. home was decorated on two floors, with the photo being taken on an upper floor.

Not only did people willingly open their homes this year, but Rota said there are already six requests from homeowners to be on the Holiday House Tours in 2017. She remarked there could soon be a waiting list for homes.

Rota added that early estimates had about 50 per cent of the attendees be from outside of Amherstburg as a lot of people from the Windsor-Essex County area converged on the town for the tours.

Carolyn Davies and Merv Richards had their home, the Bondy House Bed & Breakfast, as one of the stops on the tour. Davies, the current president of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC), agreed that it was a great event that brought hundreds of people to town. She said not only did it bring the people, but it strengthened the local economy in the process.

“It’s an event, it’s an experience,” added Bunde. “It’s for everyone.”

It is estimated that 500 people turned out for this year’s Holiday House Tours.

Town says no to taking over WE Harvest Festival

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

If the Windsor-Essex (WE) Harvest Festival returns in 2017, it won’t be run by the town of Amherstburg.

And if there is a festival in early September at Fort Malden National Historic Site, there is still a chance it could be the return of the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival.

Councillor Rick Fryer made the motion not to proceed with the Harvest Festival as a town event, though said he would support the town assisting another organizer now that the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) has decided not to organize it again.

“Right now, I’m saying we are not involved with it. We weren’t before,” said Fryer.

Fryer also referenced a letter council received from members of the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival committee wondering why they were not contacted before council received a report suggesting the town take over organizing the Harvest Festival. Fryer said he didn’t want to “push the wine festival away” and also didn’t want to burden town staff with the job of organizing another Harvest Festival.

According to Fryer, many municipalities lose money when they try to organize such events.

Councillor Jason Lavigne said he was in favour of supporting organizations putting on events, but that the town shouldn’t be putting events on themselves.

“The town should not be in the event-running business,” said Lavigne.

Lavigne asked “why are the (ACOC) getting out of running the festival?” and believed the town should turn to the wine festival organizers to give them the opportunity to bring back their event for that weekend.

“The Shores of Erie Wine Festival is way better than us. I guarantee you that,” he said, regarding the ability to run festivals.

“To me the biggest red flag is when the Chamber of Commerce decided not to do (the Harvest Festival) again after one year,” added Councillor Joan Courtney. “I worry about that.”

Courtney said she agreed with the beliefs of both Fryer and Lavigne.

harvest-festival-logo

Councillor Leo Meloche believed the decision to not have the town take over the Harvest Festival came too quickly.

“I’m concerned about making a quick decision,” he said. “This all came quickly to all of us. I think we should look at it.”

Meloche questioned whether there were benefits to the town that were not being taken into consideration and that, while he has concerns over cost and liability, he wanted to keep an open mind.

“I think this proposal should be looked at in more depth than writing it off so quickly,” said Meloche, adding discussions with Shores of Erie International Wine Festival committee members should be part of the process.

Paul Mersch, a board member with the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival committee, said they want a festival in town the second weekend in September and indicated it could be the wine festival.

“There is some intent of us coming back if all goes well in the court case,” he said.

Mersch said wine festival committee members were shocked when the town didn’t approach them with their report about the Harvest Festival, adding wine festival volunteers were told the Harvest Festival was a one-year event. The ACOC issued a letter in late October stating they would not run a 2017 Harvest Festival.

While there is interest in making a comeback, Mersch acknowledged “can we do it is a different question.” There were talks about a combined Harvest Festival and wine festival committee, he noted.

The letter the wine festival committee sent to council questioned why no one approached them in the one month since the ACOC said they wouldn’t present another Harvest Festival. The committee also stated it provided logistical support to the Harvest Festival and rented equipment to them “at a dramatically reduced rate.”

The wine festival committee also stated it has pumped thousands into the local economy and has donated thousands to various charities and causes.

“In reading the agenda, we saw on Oct. 28 the Chamber decided running a festival was not their mandate,” the wine festival’s letter states. “On Nov. 7, the report was filed from John Miceli CEO and Anne Rota, manager of tourism and culture. Could someone not have found the time in one month to contact us out of respect for everything the Shores of Erie Wine Festival has done for our town?”

Karen Gyorgy, chair of the Shores of Erie Wine Festival committee, did state they want an event of some sort that weekend and praised the organizers of the Harvest Festival.

“Kudos to the town, Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce and TWEPI (Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island),” said Gyorgy. “Volunteers put together a festival in very little time. For this they should be congratulated.”

Gyorgy said their only question was why the wine festival were not asked or approached about their intention before the report went before town council.

“We fully support festivals and tourism,” she said. “Unfortunately at this time, we were unable to make commitments.”

Lynnette Bain, vice president of tourism programs and development with TWEPI, appeared before council and said food and drink events are job creators and a growing industry. Bain spoke highly of the Harvest Festival and its “Feast On!” designation which meant they had at least 50 per cent of locally sourced product.

“WE Harvest Festival has the potential to be a tourist driver,” she said, “not a tourist enhancer.”

Bain added her belief that “town administration has the ability and skill to run the event” and that the Harvest Festival has the potential to get to the level of the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival.

According to a report from CAO John Miceli, the 2016 WE Harvest Festival drew 4,834 people. Original estimates of attendance by organizers was 8,000 people.

There were 24 vendors with eight being from Amherstburg, Miceli’s report stated, with 350 volunteers being used. He stated total vendor sales were over $146,000.

The event was highly endorsed by South West Ontario Tourism Corporation, stated Miceli, under the Ministry of Tourism, Recreation and Sport, the Ontario Culinary Alliance and Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island with it also being recognized as “an important regional economic driver.”

“Through statistical data provided from the event, it was reported that businesses and vendors within the festival grounds realized substantial financial growth and brand recognition,” said Miceli.

Miceli added that other downtown establishments as well as other “contracted services” gained sales before and after the event.

“It is highly unlikely that an event such as the WE Harvest will occur in 2017 without Town involvement,” the CAO wrote. “This is understandable with the outstanding litigation of the Wine Festival and the Chamber’s recent decision not to move forward with the event in 2017. In light of this information, council’s decision is critical. This decision will play an important role in reaffirming to residents, stakeholders and investors the Town is committed to developing an alternative economy for improving quality of life for current and future residents of the Town through the promotion of tourism.”

Miceli added: “The Tourism Regional Economic Impact Model (TREIM) is a measure used by the Ministry of Tourism, Recreation and Sport for economic impact. On a recorded 4,834 visitors, the economic impact in Ontario from the event realized $436,490 for total spending. This would include revenue and taxes on goods, gas, food & drink, accommodations, contracted fees etc. Locally, the TREIM measured the Direct GDP for our region as $193,783 and the Direct Labour benefit realized was $129,298. Should Council proceed with WE Harvest these dollars will continue to be realized in the locally economy at little or no cost to the ratepayer. This is a significant contribution to the local economy for a three-day event and will have a multiplier effect should the Town increase attendance the number of visitors to the event.”

ACOC president Carolyn Davies told the RTT Friday night she was hoping the town would take the event on.

“We want to keep the spot open for Amherstburg,” said Davies. “There were a lot of people competing for that time slot.”

The festival is good for economic development and tourism, she believed.

Davies said the ACOC’s mandate is to support businesses and “give them a strong foothold.” She indicated the ACOC is looking at supporting businesses in other ways, including finding ways for businesses to combat rising hydro costs.

Chris Gibb, a co-chair of the 2016 WE Harvest Festival, said it was “a great success” and wanted council to agree to take on the event.

“Harvest Fest gave local restaurants a chance to reach an audience they might not be able to reach. Our local wineries, distilleries, and craft breweries raved about the great exposure they received,” said Gibb. “Most importantly, by bringing people to Amherstburg to visit an event like Harvest Fest, it gives us a chance to show what a wonderful town we have and who knows, maybe a house is built or sold because of a visit to an event like this? Maybe people come back to visit a restaurant or shop they saw while at Harvest Fest, maybe Wolfhead Distillery increases employment because of increased sales.”

Gibb believed issues of liability could be addressed through a variety of steps.

“I was in charge of security last year and some of the procedures we implemented helped minimize the risk we took on,” said Gibb. “Not allowing anyone under 19 at the event, checking ID of both patrons and vendors, and working closely with the Amherstburg police were all ways to try and keep risks to a minimum.”

Gibb called the Harvest Festival “a true gem for Amherstburg” and said thousands of residents saw the value in it. He co-chaired the event with Aldo DiCarlo, the town’s mayor. DiCarlo was not in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.

Amherstburg holding Black Friday sales event Nov. 25

 

 

By RTT Staff

 

Local shoppers are being encouraged to keep their dollars local on Black Friday.

Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) president Carolyn Davies announced that “Amherstburg is uniquely having a Black Friday Sales once more” Nov. 25.

“Think about it, before shoppers head out of town in the screaming dark early hours of the morning to cross the border, if not the night before to beat the maddening rush on what could be an expensive excursion, they can consider doing their Black Friday shopping right here in Amherstburg,” Davies stated in a press release. “Shoppers could get to sleep in, stay in the ‘Burg and save themselves a trip to the States for what they might consider Black Friday savings. Amherstburg is again wooing shoppers to save right here in town. No need to spend on gas, bridge tolls, or the increase U.S. dollar exchange. Most of what shoppers are seeking across the border they may find in the ‘Burg and more.”

Black Friday

Davies said that everything from discounts on jewelry, men’s and women’s wear, quilting materials, car maintenance deals and tires will be part of the Black Friday sales.

“If one is thinking about just taking care of themselves, wellness pampering and health products may be a treat they have been waiting for and part of the Black Friday sales,” said Davies. “Thinking of changing up at home? Home décor items and quilting materials will be worth looking into. Shoppers could get a great deal on a new car and then a treat themselves  to a great meal when all the Black Friday shopping is done in the ‘Burg.”

Davies added that shopping in Amherstburg on Black Friday “not only saves the shopper a lot of wear and tear in their pocket book but keeps our local businesses vibrant.”

New Chamber of Commerce president looking forward to future

 
By Ron Giofu

 

The new president of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) is excited for the opportunity to serve the membership.

Carolyn Davies has moved up from her role as the ACOC’s first vice president to the presidency after former president Tim Ternosky vacated the post after he had to move away due to work related reasons. Her ascension to the president’s job was approved by the ACOC board last Wednesday evening.

“I’m really excited,” said Davies, a former town councillor and co-owner of the Bondy House Bed & Breakfast. “I think we can be more dynamic.”

Davies added she is “very honoured to have been moved into this position” and praised her predecessor.

“Certainly we will miss Tim as he was a good leader,” she said.

The ACOC has moved progressively to support businesses in Amherstburg for many years, the new president said, adding that it has made a move to support its downtown businesses as many towns have challenges in ensuring their downtown cores remain vibrant.

“The Chamber has strategically created events to bring activity to the downtown core,” said Davies, citing the July 22-23 Mardi Gras as an example.

Carolyn Davies is the new president of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC).

Carolyn Davies is the new president of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC).

Amherstburg’s downtown core is continuously getting noticed by people, she added, as those from outside the area come back to visit the area.

“People are coming back because now they know about the independent clothing stores, nice restaurants and those types of things,” she said.

Davies said they want to continue not only supporting the downtown but broaden their scope within town. The ACOC also endeavors to create its own strategic plan as well as conduct an economic development scan to find out what members want, what is needed and what they have. They also plan to continue working with the town and other partners to help further economic growth.

“Our role is to serve our members,” said Davies. “The Chamber’s job is to take care of the members and ensure they are as strong as they can possibly be.”

Helping small to medium-sized businesses grow and prosper also assists in keeping young people in Amherstburg, she believed, as those businesses would hire young people and keep them locally.

The ACOC has “a really good executive,” Davies added, and that there is a combination of wisdom, experience and new ideas as some members of the executive have been there for a few years while others are relatively new and bring a different perspective.

“This board works really well together,” she said.

Davies said she has seen tough times when there was a “trickle” of people downtown to where it is busier and thanked “courageous business owners” for believing in the town and helping it to grow. Industry and medium-sized businesses are also key going forward, and credited Wolfhead Distillery for opening in Amherstburg as well. Davies said owner Tom Manherz “sees potential in Amherstburg” and that it took courage to bring a craft distillery to town.