Gordon/Barrie Island commences study for commercial development

GORDON/BARRIE ISLAND–The Municipality of Gordon/Barrie Island has begun an exciting new study to help determine the possibilities of Western Manitoulin’s future.

“Way back we held a public meeting where our economic development office set up a questionnaire, and we got some very good answers and ideas from members of the public,” said Jack Brady, reeve of Gordon/Barrie Island.

The development feasibility study was identified in the municipal strategic plan as a way to determine Gordon/Barrie Island’s position as a potential growth site for commercial and clean industrial development. This funded study will cover several priority action items identified in the strategic plan, including conducting a business diversification study, identifying business incentives, developing a marketing strategy, and researching options to reduce dependency on the property tax base. It will also identify target business markets suitable for sustainable growth in Gordon/Barrie Island and Western Manitoulin, partnership opportunities, and the resources that would be required to see the project through.

“From there we applied for some grants to hire a feasibility study group to carry out a feasibility study,” said Mr. Brady. The study, being conducted by consulting firm Millier Dickinson Blais, will thoroughly investigate and identify the multi-faceted needs, requirements, and limitations of the municipality, a press release explains. A business development opportunities assessment will look at not only the area’s demography and population, but also the competitive advantages and disadvantages of the municipality and the Island, current regional business trends, and current economic drivers and priority opportunities.

“We have contracted with them, and we held our first meeting with them a couple of weeks ago, along with Annette Clarke, clerk for the Town of Gore Bay,” continued Mr. Brady. “They suggested we could look at partnering with the town on various things like the way we did with the joint fire department.”

Two sites will be studied in detail as potential areas for development, with the best site chosen according to service needs, competition, real estate market characteristics, and potential costs, the release continues. A complete financial impact analysis will assess the development economics of the industrial park, alternative approaches to bringing sites to market, and provide an initial concept plan. Finally, the marketing component of the study will develop a modern brand, logo, and slogan for the municipality, identify the resources required for investment attraction and investment retention, and provide resources for business marketing, prospect development, and client after-care.

“One thing we would like to see some study done on is having an industrial strip mall with a tool and die shop opened,” said Mr. Brady. “On the latter, the Gore Bay airport would be a logical answer for this to be located.”

Mr. Brady said, “There is definitely a need for rental and tourist accommodations, such as a hotel or bed and breakfast places. At the meeting a couple of weeks ago the consultants went out with Carrie and looked around the municipality, as to possible locations for this.”

“One thing I would like to see is something done with the extra land we have at the golf course. I’d like to see possible development of small rental cabins, for example, so people golfing can have immediate access to the golf course or other things in the area,” said Mr. Brady. “I think this would be a very attractive feature, even if a temporary trailer park was set up. It would not be something that would be permanent or open all year round, but would be available in the summer. These are the sorts of things the consulting firm will go back and look at for development. They are the experts and we outlined a few things we would like them to take a look at, and they will come back and let us know if they think these things are feasible or not.”

The strip mall could house a few small businesses, and possibly a tool and die outlet, said Mr. Brady. He said research could be done to look at acquiring land close to Gore Bay and buying the property, looking at partnering with Gore Bay, for something like rental and tourist accommodations. “For example, the land between H&M Mini-Mart and Manitoulin Transport, if it could be purchased, would be a good location for a small motel.”

However, Mr. Brady stressed, “Everything is still very, very preliminary.”

The consultants “have done this type of work on the Island previously,” pointed out Mr. Brady. “One of the biggest ideas behind all this is the creation of jobs locally to keep all of our young people here.”

Mr. Brady said transportation is another issue that could be looked at in the feasibility study plan. “When (his wife) Glenda and I came here 17 years ago, we were amazed that the local school buses were being used not only to transport students to and from schools, but they could also transport other people to different communities where the schools were located. For instance, if someone on the West End of the Island wanted to go to Gore Bay they could make arrangements with the school bus driver and get a ride to Gore Bay. This was quashed when the Manitoulin Board of Education amalgamated with the Rainbow school board, but this type of thing or something similar could be looked at again.”

“I could see someone opening up a mini-bus transportation service, with say room for seven passengers, travelling from the municipality to others,” said Mr. Brady. “There is definitely a need for public transportation on Western Manitoulin and throughout the Island, even on a regular scheduled basis, such as a shuttle bus.”

With Gordon/Barrie Island having taken over operations of the Manitoulin Island Country Club, right now we don’t have any campgrounds in Gordon/Barrie Island but we do have about 40 acres of property, and I really think we could look at setting up a temporary trailer park,” said Mr. Brady. He said the development of turning the MICC from a nine-hole golf course to 18 has been considered, “but the expense of running an 18-hole course is too much.”

“Back to the strategic plan, everything is still in the preliminary stages, we have hired the consultant to look at what is feasible, and give us some ideas,” continued Mr. Brady. “The whole idea is to generate commerce and jobs, for the future of our municipality and western Manitoulin.”

After the draft documents are completed, a public open house will be held to present the findings of the study. It is anticipated that the open house will take place in February 2014.