Five Minutes With Ken Kelly, Victoria's Downtown Champion

BONUS CONTENT: An Extended Version of our Five Minutes with Ken Kelly from the December/January issue of Douglas Magazine
A vibrant downtown is one of the primary hallmarks of a thriving city, and it takes vision, focus, planning, and action. Douglas talks to Ken Kelly, general manager of the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA) about the organization’s role and strategies in making the downtown a prosperous business hub.

The DVBA has an active social media presence. What are your strategies?

Because Twitter and Facebook are some of the principal communication tools of the day, we’ve got to be in there. It’s all about engaging with the community about what is happening virtually every day in downtown. We just want to be part of the conversation. We’re not in it to dominate. We simply want to be a participant.

The DVBA has a very diverse membership, from restaurants and retailers to hoteliers and whale watching companies. How do you work successfully with such a diverse membership?

We try to create consensus. That’s why we have a 13-member board, which is a perfect mirror of who’s out there, both amongst the 710 property owners and the 1500 business owners. And be it an annual survey or annual fireside chat, we extend the opportunity for our businesses and property owners to become involved in the decision making.

What are the biggest challenges the DVBA faces as a collective?

The three things that challenge us the most are the three things that challenge everybody within the Greater Victoria business community: the downturn of the economy, increased competition, and online shopping. The size of the pie has not increased, but certainly the number of slices that we’re trying to take out of that pie has increased. We’re trying to position ourselves effectively as the biggest shopping centre on the island. A lot of people would not think “shopping centre” in that conventional form, but we are that centre of commerce and shopping within the downtown.

The DVBA recently announced pilot project to use infrared cameras downtown? What exactly is this and how will it benefit the downtown?

We want to be as competitive as possibly can be. This year we created a downtown Victoria business strategy, which is comprised of three elements: marketing, research and analysis, and investment. At the beginning of the year, we conducted a downtown business census. The first ever conducted in which we went around and basically interviewed every business within our boundaries to find out how many part-time/fulltime [employees] and to learn the number of employees each business had. We’ve now plotted those on a block-by-block basis. We’ve inventoried all of the residential units within the downtown — where they are, what type of unit they are, if they are rental, condominium, single-room occupancy. Because that is very revealing and very informative. Another component that we are working on is this counting of the flow of pedestrians within the downtown.

The term camera is a bit of a misnomer. I think it would be better to describe them as thermal counters. They do not have any facial recognition characteristics. They only identify a source of heat coming from a body that would be walking towards the camera or away from the camera.

We’re going to install three of these cameras as a pilot project. We’ll get a read-out of the number of individuals who pass those cameras every day, every week, and every month. The objective of this is simply to enhance the information that we can provide to potential investors. “Here’s exactly the number of people who walked by this address as pedestrians on any one given day or any one given week or month.”

You recently attended the International Downtown Association’s World Congress in New York City? What lessons or ideas did you bring back for downtown Victoria?

One thing we’ve been discussing with the city is the value and the importance of defining the downtown. We want to investigate how people can better navigate the downtown, find it more accessible, and find it more welcoming, and that was reinforced a number of times in New York.

Any lessons learned from the DVBA’s recent “Parking in Paradise” campaign? You did get some blow back from the town of Moosejaw that earned you national news coverage.

We did achieve the objective, I think, of putting things in perspective. Parking in downtown Victoria is pretty good. What was interesting, in an effort to be bit edgy, we unfortunately trod on some toes. We did not intend to offend anybody. I think what we want to strive to do is to remain edgy, without offending anybody and that’s a very, very fine line to draw. We’re going to be on that tightrope and we want to be.

What is the favourite part of your job?

I do love my job. You know what, there are two elements to. First, every day is different; there’s a new opportunity, there’s a new challenge, there’s somebody different to meet each day. But the other thing is that it is an opportunity to make a contribution to our community. We live in a remarkable community. I have just a smallest opportunity of making a contribution to its well-being and its continued growth and development.