Sparling looks ahead to busy year for Blyth BIA
BY DENNY SCOTT
As part of the Blyth Business Improvement Area’s (BIA) annual general meeting, Chair David Sparling shared his reflections on the past year and looked ahead to 2021.
“Despite all of the COVID-19 [issues], the BIA wound up ending the year fairly decently,” he said. “We had two great educational speakers, one covering Gen-Z and the other on small businesses faring COVID-19. Both were exceptionally well-received and we had financial support which allowed them to happen.”
Sparling said the new signs that were erected on the Goderich-to-Guelph (G2G) Rail Trail directing people downtown were a great addition to the trail system and were funded by Regional Tourism Organization 4 (RTO4), making it an even better project for Blyth and the BIA.
Sparling also said new road signs paid for by Huron County were a benefit to the community.
As for the BIA, he said that several initiatives had moved forward over the year, including upgrading the BIA’s website, upgrading the organization’s changeable letter signs, the installation of a new speaker system for music on the main street and moving forward with parking and pedestrian safety initiatives.
Sparling also said that the implementation of a Blyth Campground Committee was moving forward with North Huron, as well as other projects that will help support businesses in Blyth.
Looking forward to 2021, Sparling said the Blyth campground could be a greater benefit to the community as people will likely not be able to travel internationally during the tourism season due to the pandemic and lockdown. He said his connections within the pharmaceutical industry said the European Union may restrict access to exporting vaccines, as may the United States of America.
“That may leave Canada at the back of the bus,” he said. “I expected 2020 to be similar to 2021.”
He said there will be a huge increase in demand for outdoor activities, like hiking, biking and camping.
“People won’t be travelling internationally,” he said. “They will be staying close to home, which is a bonus for us.”
The G2G will continue to be a boon for Blyth, Sparling said, as will the moving of the Blyth Festival outdoors later this year.
“There are lots of challenges, but lots of excitement for Blyth and lots of opportunities as well,” he said. “We need to find ways to capitalize on the opportunities that are before us for 2021.”
Sparling said one of the challenges would be connecting the G2G to the main street.
“One of the surprising things we noticed during the Rutabaga Fest [in 2019] was that there were 200 cyclists on the G2G that didn’t come to downtown Blyth,” he said. “Their point of access to Blyth was through the campground. They went down Threshers Lane to Blyth Road, went to [Blyth Cowbell Brewing] or [Tim Hortons] and bypassed all of Blyth’s main street. Of 200, we had 10 that ended up [downtown].”
He said there are lots of people on the G2G for exercise purposes, as well as just to avoid traffic problems that worry cyclists on busy roads.
“We need to find a way they can safely come to our main street that doesn’t involve going up [County Road 4],” he said.
He said connecting the campground to the village’s downtown core would also funnel tourists from the Blyth Festival’s outdoor shows, also at the campground, to the village’s businesses.
“We also want to make the campground suitable so that people want to camp there,” he said. “Before we miss the camping trend.”
Sparling said that 2021 will be a huge camping year, so the village needs to take advantage of that crowd before 2022 hits and people travel after the pandemic is brought under control through vaccinations.
“We need to make main street outdoor-friendly,” Sparling said. “We need people to sit outside, eat outside and take pictures outside…. We need to capitalize on this moment, work with other partners and keep our goals within our reach and our grasp.”
Sparling’s last comment was that the BIA needs to find ways to make its budget stretch further through partnerships.