Written by Peter Assaff,
Chris Daigle fell in love with Bathurst when he first moved to the city. Now he spends his time sharing that love with everyone who will listen.
When Daigle first arrived in Bathurst eight years ago, it was just the latest stop in a series stops that were part of his life as a retail manager.
But with four growing children, Daigle and his family were looking for a place to put down roots.
“We absolutely did (fall in love with the region),” said Daigle, who was born in Richibucto and grew up in the Moncton area. “We lived the life of transfers and transferring from city to city every two years. When we got here our kids were at the right age, I guess, to make the decision to stay.”
Before long an opportunity came up that made that decision to stay an easy one, and Daigle became the Coordinator for the Downtown Bathurst Revitalization Corporation.
“We loved the area,” said Daigle, who had 18 years of management experience. “We thought this was a great place to raise our kids, so we stayed here.”
Now instead of moving from place to place managing a major retail store, Daigle is in charge of helping make Downtown Bathurst ‘Cool Again’.
“In my opinion, I think if the downtown is bustling, if there are people in the downtown, if you’ve got life in the downtown, it usually means that there is economic growth in the city,” he said. “It is a good pulse for the economic development in the city. You’ll hear a lot of mayors, and even the mayor of Bathurst, Mayor (Paolo) Fongemie, talk a lot about the downtown. It really is kind of a pulse of how the city is doing. The better the downtown does, and the better we can develop and increase density in the downtown, the better the city will thrive.”
Once the hub of the city, Downtown Bathurst has had its struggles over the last two decades.
Since Daigle took over the job five years ago, the downtown area has started to come back to life.
New restaurants and a specialty coffee shop have opened their doors, a pair of craft breweries have set up shop, and a once dark city corner is now home to vibrant nightlife that hadn’t been seen in the area since before the turn of the century.
“I’m very happy with where we’re at,” said Daigle. “I am proud to see the entrepreneurs that have really taken some ownership and really worked towards bettering the downtown. I think that’s exciting, and I think we’ve got a good mix of young and experienced (entrepreneurs) that create a good chemistry to feed that growth.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots of work still to be done.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Businesses do close, it does happen, there is a cycle, and that is always going to be. It is just the reality of economics.”
And there are still vacant lots and empty storefronts to prove that point.
But overall Daigle says there are plenty of positive signs for the downtown area, and he says there are more than just restaurants and drinking establishments popping up. That includes a new office building being constructed on the corner of Main and St. Patrick Street, a once bustling part of the city, that he hopes will help spark development in that part of the city as well.
“When you look at five or 10 years down the road, we’d like to see the properties along the waterfront, down that way going towards the mill property, that whole area hopefully will develop and again be a great part of the downtown,” he said. “I could go on and on.”
In the short term, Daigle is working hard to stretch his budget to find things he can do to help both new and exisiting businesses succeed in the downtown area.
“We’re working on a lot on different things,” he said. “We are trying to expand the string lighting program we have on Main Street and we’re working on a few programs as far as façade improvements. We’ve got a budget in place this year to give some monies to anyone who invests in their storefronts, so that is something new.”
He is also looking at other communities in the province to see what works for their downtown areas.
“I’m the treasurer for Downtown New Brunswick,” he said. “It is an organization that is a voice at the provincial government and federal government level. We meet four or five times a year and it is a great chance for us to exchange ideas and different things. We learn best practices.
“The biggest thing, I guess, is that if someone has a good idea, we are not in competition, so we tend to share each other’s ideas and do the same things in our (areas) too. That is a very good thing. It is a great exchange of ideas and it is great fun.
“We’re looking at a few other ideas from downtown Fredericton and different (areas) in the province. We’ve got to keep growing the events we have (too) and change them up every year to make sure we keep that interest, and make sure we keep putting money into beautifying the downtown for sure.”
In addition to attracting new businesses downtown, Daigle also hopes to see more residents calling the area home.
“Residentially, I think we need to have more people living downtown,” he said. “That’s probably one of the most important things. Our mandate is to bring people downtown, so if you are living downtown that’s even better.”
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