By Allen Best
BANFF, Alberta – Banff town officials have wondered whether chain stores should be limited. A study commissioned by the town suggests no, as long as there is a good balance between chain and independent retailers.
Independent retailers provide uniqueness expected by visitors, and can experiment with products and services that chains find too risky. On the other hand, chains have the name recognition and customer loyalty.
The study notes that several communities in the United States have taken action to control retail chains in order to protect unique character. In California, these include the Napa Valley and San Francisco’s North Beach; and in Massachusetts, Cape Cod. Even so, said Randall McKay, Banff’s planning and development manager, San Francisco has struggled with finding the balance of how many is too many, and also what constitutes a chain.
Some U.S. jurisdictions have local ordinances restricting chains in certain store categories from operating in tourist areas. The authors of the study say the limited powers granted to municipalities in Canada make this strategy difficult to implement. They suggest zoning bylaws, design guidelines and size restrictions can help ensure that chains, if allowed to operate, do so in ways sympathetic to the theme of the tourist area.
Meanwhile, the amount of commercial space allowed in Banff is also an issue.
In 1998, Parks Canada ruled that a growth cap would be enacted for the town, allowing only 350,000 square feet of additional commercial space. Town officials gave out the space on a random basis, but only one-third has been built. Those with allotments have five years to build or else they lose the space.
Banff since then has looked at various resort communities that have similar growth caps. Most notable is Carmel-by-the-Sea, Clint Eastwood’s getaway in California.
But a new study commissioned by town officials says the growth cap was flawed, in that it failed to distinguish between commercial uses that help make Banff more of a magnet to visitors, and commercial space that would support existing residents.
The study, by urbanMetrics inc., a Toronto-based real estate consulting firm, compared Banff’s commercial structure to those in neighbouring Canmore, located 15 miles down-valley and outside Banff National Park, and also those of Whistler and Aspen. The study found commercial rent in Banff ranges from $85 to $110 per square foot, compared to $85 to $95 in Whistler and $22 to $25 in Canmore.
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