'Some of the ideas ranged from a butcher shop, to some sort of a cooperative bakery possibly, maybe a lounge bar. There has been a wide variety of ideas' Rod Bilz president Remedy Developments.
When the former Pearls building in North Bay’s downtown went up for sale, Rod Bilz knew he had to have it.
The president of the newly created Remedy Developments has been interested in the city’s downtown core for quite a while.
Rather than have a traditional developer’s plan in place, he opted to turn the tables and talk to the community to find out what people feel would be a good fit for the downtown.
To that end, the business community and local residents attended a community brainstorming session to flush out some ideas.
“We discussed what is missing in the downtown, so that they feel a little more engaged in what is going on in the core, because there is a good community in the downtown,” said Bilz.
“People are really excited about the process, because it is so different. It gives them an opportunity to really talk about what they think would work well and communicate and network with others and hear their thoughts and ideas as well,” said Bilz.
“The intention was that somewhere in that group of people or the network, somebody will have an idea and say ‘Hey, that is what I want to do and that is the place I want to it. “
A little more than a dozen people attended the session, breaking into small discussion groups, presenting their ideas at the end of the night.
Some ideas had already been posted on social media.
One idea was a refillery facility for household and personal care products to encourage zero-waste.
“Some of the ideas ranged from a butcher shop, to some sort of a cooperative bakery possibly, maybe a lounge bar. There has been a wide variety of ideas. Some of the things we already kind of have in the downtown, but maybe with a different twist,” said Bilz.
“I was hoping for three or four really good ideas that I am going to try and promote more and talk to some entrepreneurs and see if there is any interest.”
It will depend on what type of business opens on the main floor before a decision is made about whether offices or apartments would work best on the second level.
“That may have to sit on the back burner a little bit, but I would like to make that decision relatively quickly and get moving on it. I’m hoping in the new year that upstairs space will be the first to get developed.”
And that would mean having someone commit to a new business in rapid time.
Bilz says people have already been around kicking tires.
“There have been a few people interested from here in town. And that is what I would like to see happen.”
Resident Connie Hergott felt the brainstorming session was productive.
“I am here supporting new and innovative and inclusive thinking. Anything that brings different people together,” said Hergott.
“The format was inviting. The format was refreshing. The ideas were creative, unique. The most exciting thing for me tonight is that I knew only three other people in the room. And that was a big ‘aha’ moment for me. I really like that it was a different group of people, not the same people always doing the grassroots thing. So that is inspiring and hopeful.”
As vice-chair of the Downtown Improvement Area and store owner, Katie Bevan says typically when a business closes, especially one with so much history as Pearl’s there are a lot of questions and concerns about the vacant space.
She found the session to be a collaborative, community-based approach which she appreciated.
“Paper usually goes up on the windows of an empty business and you don’t know what is happening. So, to have Rod and Remedy Developments open the door right away and say ‘This is who I am, this is what I’m doing. What does the community want? What does the community need?’ is very refreshing,” said Bevan.
“There is so much character, so many unique businesses and boutiques downtown, and I think the buzz the businesses among the businesses is that we need something refreshing, something new. I think they’re feeling really good that there is already a lot of dialogue. I think it is a good buzz.”
The DIA vice-chair says everyone stands to benefit from finding that “right fit.”
“The more we have down here and the more amenities we have for residents down here, the more people we will get walking around, enjoying the downtown and then residents will also be able to buy what they need down here. I think the options are endless. You just need someone with a really dedicated, strong idea and it has to be unique.”
Bilz was looking for some place with history, with character that he could build on, which is why he felt drawn to the downtown.
“Over the last few year’s I’ve been watching what has been happening with North Bay. I know the city is struggling financially because we’ve stopped growing essentially,” said Bilz.
“So, I started looking at the numbers, at where the city really makes its best revenues from, and it is the downtown core. It is the engine that runs the whole city for the most part. It has been neglected for a number of years and there are a lot of vacancies and I think there is an opportunity here to create a critical mass in the downtown core by investing in these buildings and trying to build them back up.”
Bilz, who lives in North Bay and owns the building, won't be the business owner. He describes himself as more of a facilitator.
“I would work with an entrepreneur to get the space set up so they will be successful. This is a brand-new business. So, this is the first property we purchased to do development and we hope to do more in the downtown core.”