Real estate slide slows

After a recession that started “overnight,” business activity is showing positive signs, says commercial real estate broker Wayne Hay. “We’ve slowed the slide,” he observes. “Nobody knows when this will stop, but at least in the region it’s not quite so bad. Barrie is a very strong place to live.” That goes for the rest of Simcoe County as well, he adds. Although funding can be hard to come by, he’s noticed “there is still a lot of cash out there.” As a result, there is plenty of movement in the local market.  “That’s the difference between now and in ’92.” As the broker for Royal LePage First Contact’s The Commercial Group, he and his team of three are among the few commercial specialists in the local industry. He has had this focus for the duration of his 26-year real estate career. Within that field, however, he is a generalist. The property management side of the business grew out an opportunity to better serve his real-estate clients.  “It’s difficult in the city to concentrate on one avenue of commercial real estate,” he says. “So we do leases, property management, and sell land and buildings – we’re jacks of all trades. With a population of 134,000, Barrie is still considered a small town.” Born in Collingwood, the Barrie resident has a provincial licence but sticks to servicing Simcoe County.  “I try not to go down south,” he says. “They have thousands of agents there, and we have our niche here.” In this county, however, there has been growing competition in recent months from agents who would focus on non-business properties in a better economy. “Some residential people are dipping their fingers in because it’s slow,” he says. The commercial process is different, he adds, with a parallel set of laws, forms and other procedures. People are sometimes looking for asset management and valuation, disposition, or tenant representation, he adds. Or perhaps they want someone to help them search out expansion options. Hay works with his clients to navigate any of these paths. “There are lots of buyers for investment properties,” he says. “And lots of sellers for industrial land. Development land has just gotten quiet.” The “employment lands” down the 400 corridor, that was once buzzing with the prospect of developing industrial, commercial and residential projects, has also softened because of the market, he reports. The situation there isn’t helped by the “lack of commitment" between Innisfil, Barrie and the province. “It’s difficult with the banks, and I really don’t know why because Canadian banks don’t lose money on Canadian people,” he says. “But they’re being a less aggressive these days.” That said, he believes it’s a good sign that new businesses are committing to Barrie. He refers to the recent TD Bank arrival announcement, and the Patene Building Products purchase of the former Dana plant. “Announcements like that are very good,” he says. And where industrial leasing was down and Park Place was put on hold, he’s recently noticed more “calls for new business start-ups, which is a good indication.” Small businesses, which are sometimes started when soon-to-be entrepreneurs lose their jobs, are “the backbone of our economy.” The timing could buy these young enterprises bargains since “landlords are being much more flexible due to supply and demand,” he explains. “Landlords are offering incentives.” He says he’d like the city to offer new incentives of its own to help small business and promote industrial development. “We still have a lot of people driving down the highway everyday because we don’t have higher paying jobs here, so we need manufacturers to come to Barrie.” In the meantime, he expects to be working a little bit harder for a little less work – at least until the slide stops completely. For more information, visit www.thecommercialgroup.com


Groundswell brunches start Mothers Day

People still looking for a special place to bring mom this Sunday can stop by Groundswell Coffeehouse. Groundswell is launching its new weekend brunch menu in time for Mother’s Day. Brunch will be served Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The spring menu includes eggs Florentine, eggs Benedict, potato rostis, bistro salads and daily features. Groundswell is located at 96 Victoria St. W., Alliston.


Budget expected to pass Monday

The 2009 budget for the Municipality of Meaford is ready for approval. Meaford council sandwiched two special budget meetings around its regular planning council meeting on Monday evening (April 20) and came away with a majority consensus to move the 2009 budget forward for approval. In a 4-3 recorded vote council approved the 2009 proposed budget with a few changes that will have little affect on the bottom line for local ratepayers. Council began its final budget deliberations at 4:30 on Monday afternoon. Members of council and municipal staff hammered away at the numbers for more than an hour before breaking for dinner. A planning council meeting then convened at 7 p.m. About an hour later, with the planning meeting agenda completed, council again deliberated on its budget numbers. At both meetings Mayor Francis Richardson made it clear council wasn’t going to leave the room without a proposed budget that was acceptable to the majority of councillors. “I don’t want to come forward tonight with something that is defeated,” he said. “Hopefully this is the last go around,” said the Mayor. Council held the budget meetings on Monday to specifically go over the comments from the two sparsely attended public budget meetings held in at the arena and the Woodford Community Centre last Tuesday and Thursday nights. A proposed $2 a bag fee for garbage in the 2009 budget was the most heavily questioned item at the two public meetings. On Monday night council had to decide whether or not to make some changes based on the public’s comments. The budget discussions lasted a couple hours and featured a number of the same comments about bag tags heard at previous meetings. Staff told council that eliminating the $2 bag tag fee would push the overall tax increase up to approximately 7.37%. After hearing that number the idea to eliminate bag tags was dropped completely. However, council was concerned that the $2 bag tag fee would not realize the $370,000 revenue figured included in the budget. Municipal staff first proposed bag tags a number of months ago. The budget process has now dragged on and it’s unlikely the bag tags will bring in the anticipated revenue because they won’t be put in place until halfway through the year. On Monday night council decided to reduce the amount it expects to earn from the $2 bag tags from $370,000 to $200,000 – bag tags will be implemented beginning on July 1. In order to make up the $170,000 difference council approved delaying staff salary grid increases until November (municipal staff will still get a 2% overall wage increase). Council also approved the elimination of the proposed fees for the new Leaf and Yard waste facility. Residents will be able to bring their compost material to that facility for free. The changes approved by council at the meeting will result in an overall tax increase of 5.35%. A resolution to approve the budget, with the amendments presented by staff included, passed in a tight 4-3 vote. Councillors Gerald Shortt, Jim McPherson and Harley Greenfield voted against the budget. All three opposing councillors said the budget didn’t cut expenses enough, although they offered no concrete alternatives other than to call for unspecified cuts to municipal staffing levels. A formal budget bylaw will come before council for approval at council’s regular meeting on Monday, April 27 beginning at 7 p.m.


M&M Charity Barbecue Day Saturday

M&M Meat Shops will hold its 21st annual Charity Barbecue Day on Sat., May 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For a minimum donation of $2.50, supporters will receive a hamburger or hot dog, a drink and a bag of chips. Employees and volunteers will serve up burgers and hot dogs in hopes of raising their goal of $2.1 million for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC). In the past 21 years, M&M’s Charity Barbecue Day has raised over 16.5 million toward medical research into inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Canada has among the highest rates of Crohn’s disease in the world.


Park fights phragmites with herbicide this fall

Wasaga Beach Provincial Park has released its action plan on how to deal with the invasive plant known as Common Reed or Phragmites australis, which growing along the shore of Nottawasaga Bay. The plan calls for a multi-pronged approach using many techniques in conjunction with the use of herbicide over the next three years. Staff warn that people should not try to use herbicide themselves as misuse of the herbicide could help the plants build up an immunity to the herbicide staff is using. Park staff is asking people not to take matters into their own hands by cutting or digging the plants as those techniques have been proven to accelerate its growth. The Minister of Natural Resources visited Wasaga Beach in October to inspect the growth of the non-native plant, after being contacted by area residents. Wasaga Beach Provincial Park natural heritage education leader Keith Johnston penned the plan over the winter. He was hired in the fall as a contract assistant park planner to complete the plan. He said staff and volunteers will apply a number of techniques laid out in the plan to designated test areas in the fall. The efforts will be concentrated at Beach Area 6 to start. Staff had intended to do some work to cull the spread of common reed at the point where the Nottawasaga River lets out into the bay this spring but the early arrival of Piping Plovers, an endangered bird that has returned to nest in Wasaga Beach, has forced staff to change their plans. Wasaga Beach Provincial Park superintendent John Fisher said the phragmites growing at the point is a concern because they are choking out the habitat of the Piping Plovers. The herbicide will be used in conjunction with removing and burning the flowering parts of the plant to reduce seed dispersal and rolling the dead stalks in the winter to make it easier to apply the herbicide. Johnston said there is a native species of phragmites that is non-invasive and grows with the other natural beach grasses that are vital to the stabilization of sand dunes and a healthy beach ecosystem. He said Phragmites australis is typically a wetland plant and that is why its appearance along the shore of Lake Huron has baffled scientists for years. The plant was first discovered in Wasaga Beach about three years ago. It was believed that the plant could not grow in a beach environment but Johnston said it has adapted so rapidly to beach conditions and so efficiently that samples from some patches growing in Wasaga Beach had to be sent away for genetic testing to see if they were native or non-native. The non-native species had adapted to resemble the native species. The difference is in its invasive nature. Johnston said Wasaga Beach Provincial Park is basing its approach on years of experience and trial-and-error of others. He said, based on his research and consultation with experts working in the field, Wasaga Beach is two years ahead of the game. The plan will be reevaluated in three years, after each of the beach areas affected are treated although new methods and techniques will be incorporated as they become available. The program is overseen by a steering committee consisting of representatives from Ontario Parks, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority and Environment Canada.


Golf Hunter links clubs with businesses

Through Golf Hunter, golf clubs looking for new revenue streams connect with corporations looking for great value and a return on their marketing investment. “Seventy per cent of all your customers and all your prospects enjoy the game of golf,” says Sean Manias, owner and creator of Golf Hunter. “It mirrors life in many ways – sometimes it rains and sometimes it’s sunny, but the tournament must go on.” Three years ago, Manias was interested in re-entering the golf industry and was looking for a business idea to develop. He came up with the concept of the variable foursome. “The saturated market dictates you must go out and hunt revenue,” he says. With so many golf courses competing for players and corporate golf on the decline, he got creative and set up this win-win-win solution. While traditional golf memberships are tied to specific individuals and courses, Manias introduced “variable memberships” to allow any four golfers to golf anytime at any of the participating courses – all season long. “I’ve grown from one course, to four courses last year and now we have 10 locations,” he says. “In 2010, we’ll be expanding into London, Kitchener/Waterloo, and Burlington.” The current line-up of club locations extends from Uxbridge and Newmarket to Muskoka, and from Thornbury to Peterborough. “I chose courses based on location, amenities and primarily service,” he says. He reports “fantastic” feedback on the products and services his new company provides. While working as a territorial sales rep for a large company, he found himself dissatisfied, despite being quite successful in his chosen career. “I realized the last time I was really, really happy was when I was in the golf industry,” he says of recalling an earlier job as the food and beverage manager at a large private golf club. He enrolled in Georgian College’s Professional Golf Management program and was able to fast-track because of the university degree he’d already obtained from Queen’s University. “That’s what brought me to Barrie,” says the Burlington native, who made the move directly from working in Toronto’s downtown core. “I don’t miss the city at all.” When it was time to launch his new business, he met with former college instructor Doug Wilson, who is also the general manager and director of golf at Diamond ‘in the Ruff’ in Muskoka. “He was very supportive and acts as a good mentor,” says Manias of the continuing relationship. “He sits on my board of advisors.” As of the result of the association, “I grew his corporate golf business 75 per cent,” Manias reports. The expanded program has corporate members choosing a home course, where most golfing will be done. Then a service level is determined. Packages can include golf only, golf plus cart, or absolutely everything, including food and beverage. Membership fees range in price from $6,000 to $12,000 depending on home course and level of service chosen. The reported reasons for the decline in corporate golfing is expense, time and logistical nightmares, he says. With Golf Hunter, all nightmares are coverted to hassle-free dream outings since Manias takes care of all the arrangements. Businesspeople who want to woo clients but don’t have time to spend hours hours golfing, can have the best of both worlds. A client likely doesn’t want to golf with a sales rep anyway, he adds. Instead, the invitation will be better received if the client is left free to use the passes to play with family or friends. “If you had a chiropractor who sent you golfing three or four times a year, you’d never switch chiropractors,” he suggests. “If you had a house painter who sent you to the golf course while the work was being done, why would you not use that house painter?” A similar positive reception could be expected from suppliers, visiting executives and charity supporters who “purchase” a foursome through a fundraising auction. Manias calls it a “great differentiation” between competing businesses. “We do all the administration, book the tee times, and even meet your guests on site if need be,” he says. “I requested, we’ll stay and make sure they’re having a great day.” Manias reports “great feedback” from clients who are opting in to his program. It’s not surprising then, as he begins his third season in operation, that his own business growth is well ahead of the normal curve for business start-ups. For more information, email Manias at [email protected]


Guergis now under fire for Alberta mailer

Simcoe-Grey MP Helena Guergis is coming under fire for yet another mailer, only this time it’s in another province. Hot on the heels of the controversy over a constituency newsletter sent out after the election writ was dropped, a columnist for the Edmonton Journal newspaper reported yesterday that Guergis had sent out pro-Conservative mailers to homes in the Edmonton-Strathcona riding. The Alberta riding is the same one that Guergis’ husband, Rahim Jaffer, represented prior to being defeated in the 2008 federal election. In the column by Todd Babiak, some Edmonton residents said the mailer was a waste of money and questioned why it was sent and why it was sent by Helena Guergis, an MP who respresents a riding thousands of kilometers away in another province. The mailer, similar to the ones the Conservatives were sending out prior to the election last year, reportedly raises a question as to which one of Canada’s federal party leaders is doing the best job at protecting the Canadian public during the current economic uncertainty. The column reported there is also a photo of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and gave residents the option to check a box beside the names of one of the four federal party leaders. When contacted by the Herald Guergis’ staff member Val Knight said she was unaware of the mailers. She said they didn’t come out of the Simcoe-Grey constituency offices or from Guergis’ staff in Ottawa. "It would have gone out from the Conservative Party. The only thing that our office sends out is the 10 per center and the householder," she said. Guergis was not immediately available for comment. The original column in the Edmonton Journal can be read by clicking here:


First Dog not right for everyone, breeders say

A high-profile pooch named Bo is sparking interest in a hard-working breed with a unique history. But area kennels specializing in Portuguese water dogs – the pet of choice for U.S. President Barack Obama – say those contemplating one for their own home are best to bone up on the realities of ownership. “They are a great dog for the right family, but they are not the best dog for everybody,” said Cathie Sockett, who runs Ondulado Kennel near Orillia with her husband Steve. Soon after Obama’s four-legged friend was splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the globe, Sockett was fielding questions from curious callers. “There seems to be a lot more interest from people that aren’t necessarily looking for dogs, but know that I have them and are asking about them,” she added. “Someone in Calgary said, ‘I’ve been looking pre-Obama.” The water-loving breed was once a favourite of Portuguese fishermen who relied on the curly or wavy-coated canines to retrieve nets and ferry messages from ship to shore. “They are a highly intelligent, problem solving, ancient working breed,” said Hawkestone resident Gillian Goldschmidt of Belouro Kennels. The family-friendly dogs are also “high maintenance." “They need both physical and mental stimulation because they are highly intelligent,” Goldschmidt added. “They are truly a family member, and they are like Velcro. They want to be with you.” Sockett, who has six Portuguese water dogs ranging in age from 10 months to 13 years, concurred, saying the high-energy breed requires an active environment to thrive. “Busy homes are good for them,” she added. Both kennels work to ensure prospective buyers are well suited to caring for the animal. “We are very selective about where they are going to go,” said Goldschmidt. “There is so much to consider. We like to meet (the buyers) a couple of times. And we don’t ship dogs. We want to meet people who are interested in getting one of our dogs.” Reputable breeders register their dogs with the Canadian Kennel Club and require buyers to sign non-breeding agreements as a condition of sale, said Sockett. “The concern is that people will start to breed (the animals) like crazy, and we don’t want that,” she said, noting that the dogs need to be screened for possible health problems. As for Bo’s future, Goldschmidt could only speculate on his duties as First Pet. “I don’t know what kind of job they are going to get the dog to do,” she added. “Courier documents in puncture-proof pouches?” Goldschmidt and her husband Frank have three dogs of their own but no puppies at the moment.


Police searching Georgian Bay for missing man

Southern Georgian Bay OPP and the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre (JRCC) are still searching for a missing Tiny Township man. Police received a call late Monday about the missing man, who failed to return to his home early April 17. “From the investigation which followed, police have been able to determine that 29-year-old Nick Dusome left the Harbour West Marina in his 14-foot aluminum boat and safely made it to the Town Dock in Penetanguishene,” said Const. Peter Leon in a news release. Dusome reportedly spent the evening of April 16 at Yorkie’s Bar and Grill, leaving after the establishment closed in the wee hours. “The family has not seen or heard from Mr. Dusome after his brother dropped him off at the marina early Thursday evening, and his disappearance is uncharacteristic.” Leon said Dusome failed to show up for work April 17 and again on Monday. Several unsuccessful attempts to locate his whereabouts were made by the family before the OPP was contacted. “A search of the Town Dock and area marinas was conducted by officers from the Southern Georgian Bay OPP (on April 20) and his boat has not been located,” Leon said, adding five OPP vessels and a Canadian Coast Guard boat out of Meaford are conducting searches of the waters in and around Penetanguishene Bay. A Hercules search-and-rescue aircraft conducted a series of low-level flights, with no sign of Dusome or his boat. Members of the Central Region emergency response team searched the shoreline on Tuesday, while a helicopter from Canadian Forces Base Trenton joined the air search. The operation is being carried out under the direction of the JRCC in Trenton. Police are asking shoreline property owners to check if anything has washed ashore in the past few days. Anyone who has something to report can call the OPP at 526-3761 or 1-888-310-1122. Dusome is described as a white male, six feet tall with a muscular, build. He weights between 210 and 220 pounds, and has short brown hair and a reddish-coloured goatee. He was last seen wearing light brown coveralls, a dark green jacket and dark-coloured boots. His boat is described as creamy white in colour and was equipped with a 25-horsepower Johnson outboard motor.


Township after federal cash

Clearview Township council decided last week it will apply for federal funding for four projects. Under the Build Canada Fund, the township is asking for money that will be used to pay for upgrades to the Stayner Arena. In particular, the money would be used to expand the arena to the south, allowing for additional dressing rooms. Another project that Clearview would like funding for is the emergency hub that will be built on the eastern edge of Stayner, on the south side of Highway 26. The facility is a joint project involving the township and the County of Simcoe. The Clearview Fire Department, the County of Simcoe Paramedic Services and the Huronia West OPP will use the building. Clearview is applying to the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund for money to build the facility. It will also apply to the fund for money to replace the Local Airport Road bridge, over Batteaux Creek, and for funding to build a section of the Stayner to Collingwood trail, which runs along the Barrie-Collingwood Railway Line. Mitch Carruthers, Clearview’s treasurer, says that since the council meeting the applications have been submitted. “Now we just have to wait and hope,” he said.