St. Catharines’ vacancy rates continue to decline

Since January 2001, the St. Catharine’s downtown vacancy rate has continued to decline from 16.9 per cent to its current rate of 10 per cent as of July 2003. So what does all this mean? One thing’s for sure, the double cohort is making its mark on more than Brock alone.According to the city of St. Catharine’s Economic and Development researcher, Catharine Gerhard, the attempt to lower the downtown vacancy rate is just one of many strategies in the city’s growth strategy.

Like most downtowns, Gerhard explains that the businesses around the St. Paul Street area must compete with commercial operations and nearby malls, such as Fairview and The Pen Centre. “It’s really about having to appeal to a certain market.”

Gerhard said that many business like Kloz etc. and Blue Bubble Tea House, are in fact niche stores that offer their public something unique and original.

Kloz etc., located on St. Paul Street, offers a variety of apparel, accessory and home accomplices, and has recently returned to operate within the downtown area after taking a short break. Gerhard says that this is just one of many retail examples, where owners have moved in, or in this case returned, to try and capitalize on the growing student market.

So why choose to operate a store front just for those attending Brock? According to a study conducted by Professor Lewis Soroka of Brock’s department of Economics this past year, Brock’s annual economic impact on the Niagara Region grew to $263,365,940 for the 2001-2002 fiscal year, which is an increase of more than $100 million over a 10 year period, and can be expected to exceed this dollar amount with the effects of the double cohort.

While some St. Catharine’s stores primarily cater to downtown office workers, Gerhard stresses that they have not forgotten the impact of students, which she notes is extremely important.

“We have recognized that there is a need for a good mix of both businesses and residence life within the downtown area.” While not only continuing to track the decline of the vacancy rate, Gerhard also indicated that they are continuing to work alongside the Downtown Association and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to keep developing residence life, which she claims is one of their “key areas” for growth.

This is probably a wise decision considering Soroka’s statistics indicated that the average student living off campus spends, excluding tuition fees and books, an estimated $4,714 over the academic year on room and board, and approximately $3, 321 on other expenses. In all, the reported 2,977 non-local students that resided off campus during 2002-2001 spent $23,923,172 within the local economy.

Not a bad statistic. According to a press release sent out last November, Nash Peerbocus, CMHC Market Analyst, indicates that this off campus spending could also be attributed to more young adults between 20 and 29 choosing to stay at home with their parents, thus increasing their amount of disposable income.

Although students may not yet be aware that they have more disposable income, business owners and renters alike seem to have finally caught on.

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