Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Sizable (but Quiet) Investment


If you have been at Walmart of Kent lately, you will have noticed the land development activity that is going on behind these stores.  That development is designed to open up commercial development space in that Shoal Harbour Drive / Coish Place area.   

The developer, in this case, is the Town of Clarenville.

The Town has borrowed and spent a good chunk of change in order to make that land usable.  At the Council meeting this past Tuesday, the Town accepted a tender from Cougar Construction for $293,000 to do further work.  The problem is that this tendered amount was 30% more ($93,000) than what was predicted by the Town’s own estimates.  That’s a significant overage and a large amount of money that the Town will have to unexpectedly borrow.  It could also potentially affect the town’s ability to borrow for other things - like much needed road improvements. 

Although I have no doubt that over time the newly developed land will be sold and the Town will recoup its investment, the financial weight of such an unplanned borrowing is heavy and may come with hidden costs that affect other projects.

Normally development is left to the private sector in Clarenville.  This particular land development has been an exception that has neither been well explained, well questioned by Council, nor aparrently well costed.  If the Town is going to take such an approach to development, then there needs to be better accountability, scrutiny and transparancy.  We have not see that in this case and frankly that worrys me.    

Hear the discussion of the September 24th Council meeting at the Packet's website link.  (at about the 25 minute mark)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Invisible Cross Walk


This Crosswalk can be found at the intersection of Huntley Drive and Harbour Drive.   I call it the Town's "Invisible" crosswalk because each day people cross here and each day cars zoom past oblivious to it.

I go through this intersection many times a week and last week as I was stopped at the intersection I watched in horror as an RCMP cruiser sailed right through the crosswalk while somebody waited to cross.  Of course, I can't totally fault drivers for missing the crosswalk.  Eastbound traffic travelling at speed cannot really see it, or the sign indicating it's there until they are upon it.   More to the point, eastbound traffic can't see pedestrians crossing at the walk until they are up on them.

It's a disaster waiting to happen.

With school back in session and with the courtesy bus service discontinued from the Clearwater subdivision there are bound to be some kids using that crosswalk.   I shutter to think.

There are two issues that need to be addressed here.  The placement of the crosswalk is one.  Its location on the turn and in the dip in the road make its hard for drivers to see pedestrians and it's equally hard for pedestrians to see vehicles coming across the Shoal Harbour bridge.  I count about four seconds between the time a car becomes visible and the time it crosses the crosswalk.  It needs to be in a more visible area.

The second issue is the speed of  the traffic.  It crosses the bridge at at least 50kph.  Traffic needs to slow down and drivers also need warning of the crosswalk.    This empty post once held a 40kph sign - it needs to have a new one.  It also needs a Cross Walk sign to warn drivers in time.  There's a quick and easy fix to address this issue.  Why has it not been done?

Let's make that crosswalk visible before it's too late.












Friday, September 21, 2012

A "Lot" of Trouble

This week's edition of the Packet carries a story on the continuing saga of the parking lot at the Clarenville Shopping Centre.  Normally parking lots are not newsworthy but this lot is special - you own it!  (see story: A 'lot' at stake, The Packet)
In the context of 1966 when the lot was built, it made perfect sense for a community interested in growth, to develop a piece of land (that would become the Clarenville Shopping Centre's parking lot) so to encourage private developers to build a “modern’ shopping facility.  The idea worked, but the fact that someone neglected to write in a sunset clause into the development agreement that specified that ownership of the parking lot would transfer to the developers after a defined point in time is still haunting us almost half a century later.
So what’s the matter with the Town owning the lot you may ask? 
For starters the fact that “our lot” is 50 years old means that it needs a tremendous amount of very expensive maintenance – both below and on the ground.   If this maintenance is not done, at our expense, the lot will fall apart (all you need to do is look at it to see it is falling apart) and this in turn will pose a significant liability problem for its owners – us.   This increased risk will be reflected in our Town’s insurance rates which are paid by our taxes.  
Further, because we own the lot and are responsible for its upkeep, we are, in effect, subsidizing the businesses that operate in that mall.  The Co-op and other stores in the Clarenville Shopping Centre do not have to bare the same costs of maintaining a parking lot that stores like Walmart, Sobey’s and Canadian Tire does.  We are doing it for them.
It’s such a sweet deal for the businesses in the Clarenville Shopping centre that you can bet that they will not be too quick and too willing to give it up voluntarily.  With the businesses having all the bargaining power, the Town really only has two basic options:
1.    Pay to fix the lot to the point that the Shopping Centre Association will agree to take it, or
2.    Close the lot.   
Because neither of these options are politically acceptable (especially a year before an election), I fully expect we’ll be in the parking lot business for many years to come.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Moving towards the 2014 Winter Games









Clarenville is moving closer to the Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games set for March of 2014.   Our committee has been active for almost a  year and collectively we have spent a lot of planning time so far in making sure that this games will create a lifetime memory for this generation of young people in the province in general and the greater Clarenville region in particular.

It is with this vision in mind that we made a conscious decision to hold the latest key pre-games event in front of the over 700 students of the Clarenville school system.   This group will be our athletes.  This event we saw
  • the release our games logo (developed by Pilot Communications),
  • the Provincial Government presented a cheque for its investment of $350,000, and 
  • Our committee launched a game's slogan challenge.  
Be sure to watch the video (below) to see a clear demonstration of the enthusiasm of our youth!

Follow the games on:

Twitter: @NLWG2014 (#clarenville2014)
Facebook: www. facebook.com/clarenville2014
and soon on our new website.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Clarenville & Development. Reoccurring Themes

Have you ever had the experience of slipping on ice?  There's no worse feeling than not being able to get a grip.   Sometimes I can't help but feel that the Town is slipping on the icy slope that we call development. This week's edition of the PACKET clearly illustrates this in a story and in its editorial.  The question is, are we trying to get a grip or are we just spinning our wheels?

SPINNING OUR WHEELS 

The story of the man whose property is being overwhelmed  by the Katherine Estates development is not new to me.  ( Pay More Attention, The Packet, September 13, 2012).   I was on Council when we approved the Katherine Estates development.  I voted for it.   I was asked to make a decision based on a photocopied 8.5*11 paper drawing of the street layout for that development.  The whole affair has been a learning experience for me. I was not told - nor did I know enough to ask, about the elevations - I assumed (wrongly) that the development would follow the natural, gentle slope of the land.   With what I estimate to be over 1000 loads of fill later, we have a development that slopes up into the side of a blasted cliff - towering above the homeoner's  property.  Unfortunately the damage is done and changing what is, is impossible.  BUT there are learnings that should come from this experience for the Town.  Judging from some of the subsequent developments I have seen, this clearly has not occured.  

The Editorial in this week's PACKET was also spot on (Going with the Flow).  Manitoba Drive is widely acknowledged to be a mess because as traffic volumes have shot up, the problems caused by poor (no) planning  have become  more evident.  Now, the relatively new, but equally busy, Shoal Harbour drive is being developed in exactly the same way.    No sidewalks, exits and entrances hither and dither and lack of turning lanes point to many accidents waiting to happen.

GETTING A GRIP?

Unfortunately, there's a lot of sentiment out there in Clarenville that longs for the "good old days" when you didn't need formal proactive process and a simple "chat" would address problems after they occurred.    The reality is that this type of reactive approach to an ever growing list of problems just don't work today -  These times are gone in Clarenville and the town needs a much more rigorous approach to development.

I can't totally fault developers for the current problems - their vision is largely driving the growth in this town.  As well,  their objective is clearly to maximize their revenues and minimize their costs.  They do owe a moral obligation to do what is right - but generally, I would not expect them to (or let them) monitor their own compliance with development rules. 

Our job as a community (you and me) should be to ( through our Town Council) gather information based on evidence; make appropriate rules, apply these rules fairly and ensure the rules are followed.  Through my own experience, I know that this can and should be done better - and it's frustrating when it is not.  

Growth will continue and it's crying out to be actively managed.   It's time to get a grip in these good "new" days.

pt




   

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

TARGA: Safety is First …We Think




START YOUR ENGINES?

Next Wednesday’s running of the TARGA road rally through the streets of Clarenville sure seemed like an afterthought in the discussion yesterday’s Council meeting.    To be fair, this end of meeting information item did turn into a 15 minute discussion that unfortunately,  left me feeling more concerned than I should given the unequivocal guarantees that Council said it was looking for before it finally approved the running of the Clarenville leg of the Targa race for 2012.  

It was a discussion that heard Councillor Rodway proclaim that “It’s is much more safe event  (this year) and I think that this group has a good control over that.  It seems like Targa has done a lot more work in training this year.”  From there the discussion was further peppered with talk of safety tape placement and with words and phrases like “we’re getting”, “will be posted”, “I think”, “hopefully”, “not official yet”, “don’t have the budget” & “seems”.   Let’s just say that after listening to the discussion, I was not instilled with a lot of confidence that the Town knows for certain that the event will run significantly different, and safer, this year than in previous years.

The major argument in favor of Targa on Clarenville streets has always been the economic benefit derived from the running of the event.    The lack of communication between Targa and the Town  (as demonstrated by the uncertainty  in the Council discussion – one week before the race), and the lack of effective communication between Town and the potential Clarenville stage audience says to me that the full potential of the economic benefit of running this race has not been achieved.  So I conclude that we are assuming all of the risk for the bit of the reward we are extracting - it's a off-balance cost/benefit that has never been adequately questioned by townspeople and answered by the race organizers.  

According to Councillor Picket and the Mayor, this will be the make-or-break year for Targa in Clarenville.  Considering the level of uncertainty we are now prepared to accept to "make" the race, I fear to wonder what it would take to "break"  it.

In the meantime, let's keep our fingers crossed behind multi-coloured tape line and hope that no one is hurt enough to “Break” the race.

POSTSCRIPT

At the end of the discussion the Town voted to spend $500 on airing radio ads for the event – not to promote and support it but rather to warn people of the danger of it.  This action has undermined the economic rationale for the race and given added credence to the people who argue against the race on the basis that it is an accident waiting to happen.

If Council is still so worried about the issue of safety why are they allowing it to move forward?  

LISTEN FOR YOURSELF

To hear the complete discussion of Council's  discussion on TARGA, visit the PACKET’s website and listen to the Sept 4 meeting beginning at the 23:00 minute mark.    CLICK HERE     

ROUTE INFORMATION

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Winter Tourism - Opportunity is knocking, let's answer the door!



This past week, an ad appeared in the PACKET for a position at White Hills that would focus on marketing the facility.  That, coupled with the Town's pronouncement that it would renew efforts to build a Winter Tourism Strategy, started me thinking about some of the tangible things we could do as a community  to take better advantage of the tourism opportunity.  (I use WE because we own the WHITE HILLS RESORT so its future affects us).

 I call my suggestions: "Strategic Doing".

Of course, these are only my thoughts, I'd like you to share your thoughts here as well.  Together we could all benefit.

OUR GOAL

I’d like to see a very clear goal spelled out for everyone (especially employees of the Hill) who has anything to do with winter tourism in Clarenville:  

OUR GOAL:  The Winter Customer Experience in Clarenville (White Hills) will exceed or at least equal what we promise

IT’s ALL ABOUT COMMUNICATIONS:

Communication is critical for Winter tourism’s / White Hill’s success.   I want to see all communications to be looked at from two perspectives:

1) Potential users of the resort need to know that there is a great winter Resort in Clarenville (Resort Awareness)
2) Users of the Resort need to know about, and be encouraged to use, the services available to them in Clarenville (Community Awareness) – Capture the economic development potential of the Resort

As alluded to above, I would, first and foremost, like to see and hear what we commonly call “the hill” re-branded as a  “Resort”.  The term Resort is much more encompassing than “hill” and indicates a broader range of winter activities including Downhill, Nordic, Snowshoeing, Snowmobiling, Socialization, Food, etc.

COMMUNICATIONS MEDIA:

Leverage Resort Awareness:
The Avalon market seems to be the most important non-local market for the Resort.  Anecdotal, the bulk of skiers from that region tend to be secondary/post-secondary students and young Families (this needs to be quantified).  Tradition media works well, but could be better targeted to Sporting stores, Sporting Clubs, and schools - these should be the natural focus for marketing material. 

More schools, colleges and sporting groups should receive a stronger focus in direct communications.     

In the US, at the Disney parks, each user is asked for their email and postal code.  Workers at the registration could easily collect that.  Like Disney, we could use that information to track usage, and more importantly,  use that address to generate a timely email to the customer thanking him/her for coming and asking them about their experience.  If this feedback is interpreted and used, we could learn a lot and use it to help develop a better user experience.

Upgrade email newsletter: The current “newsletter” that comes from White Hills is nothing more than a short email – it lacks any attractive content, it often lacks a subject line and it does not engage the reader – it needs to. A high quality, formatted, easily read (on Smart phones - no, not a PDF) weekly electronic newsletter could feature pictures comments from skiers, advertising etc. could be distributed through email and social media – keeping the Resort top of mind. This is a tool that is currently used but underutilized.

The use of traditional media is very important to White Hills Resort’s continued success; however the opportunity to leverage social media has not been well exploited: both by White Hills and by the Town.

Leverage Facebook, Twitter and You Tube:

As of Aug. 31, 2012;   White Hills has 2054 Facebook followers and 208 followers on Twitter.   This means that you have ready and direct access (via smartphones) to over 2000 people who are receptive to any messages (and any surveys) that White Hill’s sends out.   Further, accessing them is free and you can track their take-up on any given message.
With the trend towards a more visual internet, the commonplaceness of small video (go-pro) cameras and You-Tube, many people are placing videos of their experience at White Hills online.  THIS IS A HUGE UNTAPPED MARKETING OPPORTUNITY – encourage people to post their videos and link them to the White Hills Facebook site.  Offer Prizes, a Contest.  Also develop and suggest the #whitehills hashtag for Twitter.   

The people who manage the communication need to be aware and open to the potential and the power of Social Media to communicate with (2 way communications) potential customers. Further, using Social Media advertising, you can directly target chosen demographics in a cost effective manner.

I have spent a lot of time developing some expertise here and see tremendous opportunity to tap into Social Media.  This capacity can be accessed with minimal training costs.

Clarenville Community Awareness:

There has been no direct link drawn and measured between the existence of that Resort and the Town of Clarenville.  There needs to be.

A Different approach: Free Signs – contrary to the traditional approach of selling signage, the resort could also offer a reverse model by offering free advertising space to certain businesses.  This approach would entice more businesses to become involved, thereby creating better ties with the local business community.   In return, the business would offer discounts/freebees to resort customers.   Subway for example, could place a sign on a tower - in turn they would offer a benefit to a Resort customer (Buy one get one free)  this system would see direct benefit go to advertisers & customers rather than the resort – but such benefits would generate greater sales volumes for the resort. 

Chalet Television Monitors – Flat screen monitors cost less than $700 to install.  A simple memory stick can be placed in the TV to create a continuously running slide show.  With minimal training, and using PowerPoint, Ads / Information items can be placed on that memory stick and that could display on the TV’s in the Resort lodge area (similar to the TV in the lobby of the CEC and at the CNA campus).   Ad placement could be sold on these TV’s.     

Tower Signs – the tops of the lift towers, the light poles and the side of the Magic carpet all make ideal locations for tasteful advertising signs.

Signs on White Hill’s Road – there is 4 km or road opportunity between the Resort and Clarenville.  Selling signage space along the road would generate money for the resort and create an incentive for customers to come into Clarenville and buy. 

Town signs at Resort – As a visitor to White Hills, I need to learn about Clarenville.  I want to know what Clarenville has to offer and If I knew that I might just take advantage of that offer.  The TOWN of Clarenville needs a stronger presence at the Resort.

Signs in Town – Clarenville town owns, but does little to promote the resort.   Directional signage in Clarenville with the Resort’s logo would raise awareness of the resort among locals and stimulate business.

Lift Pass - Booklet of Value – When selling season lift/trail passes the “value” is limited to being able to ski.  This value could be expanded greatly if a Value book of coupons from sponsors was sold with the pass.  In theory the value in the coupons could exceed the value of the pass – making for a great sales promotional hook and thereby encouraging more pass sales.

Link with Events Centre – better and more cross marketing needs to happen between the resort and the Events Centre.  A visitor at one venue would be currently hard pressed to know the other exists. That can easily change.  

Package Caribous & White Hills Resort – The Caribous are a big draw and they play on the weekends.  By offering a pass for the game and a ski the value proposition is doubled for the customer.

Chalet WIFI – The Chalet should offer WIFI to enhance the customer experience and encourage non skiers to come out to the resort to watch.  The WIFI system could be a sponsored system where once the system is accesses, sponsor messages could be displayed at start-up.

Frequent skier cards – for people who do not buy yearly passes, one of the challenges is cost and at the end of the year issue of “I wonder how much I spent?” and “maybe I should have bought a pass?”  A Frequent skier card would allow a person to track their usage and incentives them to buy a pass the following year.

2014 Winter games – This year we need to actively promote the 2014 Games in Clarenville at the Resort and in the Town.

Making the Experience

Outdoor Shelter/BBQ hut/hot-tubs – A lot of resorts offer an outdoor cookhouse, gathering spot that provides shelter, warm-up ability and a place for socials.   With a view of view of Dark hole Pond a kiosk type shelter with a large BBQ pit could provide to be a solid attraction for apr├Ęs ski activities, food and refreshments.  Taking this further, hot tubs are becoming increasingly popular and such a feature could provide a good draw opportunity. 

Snowmobile trail/lot – the lack of Snowmobiler access to the Resort Chalet facilities limits the potential of the resort.   By making one of the lots accessible for snowmobile trailers this would 1) reduce congestion on the road 2) encourage snowmobilers to stay off snowmobile restricted areas 3) create a new market & revenue stream for the resort’s lodge.  

Work with Town – The Town and the Resort needs to have a stronger link to ensure maximum mutual benefit.  This seems simple enough to do but seems not to happen.  Take Winter Carnival for example, very few events happen at White Hills when it could be the crown jewel of Clarenville’s winter carnival