Kevin Chief grew up visiting the stores of Selkirk Avenue and he’s hoping his son will be able to do likewise.
"I want to see the history and tradition of the North End maintained," said Chief, the provincial Minister of Children and Youth Opportunities and MLA for Point Douglas during the official opening of the North End Business Development Centre on Oct. 25.
Located at 607 Selkirk Ave., the centre is part of the North End Community Renewal Corp.’s five-year community plan for 2011-16. It will serve as a "single-window service centre for entrepreneurs and business owners wanting to start-up or expand into the North End community," according to NECRC officials.
Rob Neufeld, executive director of the NECRC., said the business centre will be a place where new and existing local businesses can "check in" for support.
The facility, which was purchased by the NECRC, will feature a business guide reference library, "incubator" office workspace for new businesses, start-up and relocation support and resources for North End businesses to network. The Selkirk Avenue Business Improvement Zone will have an office at the centre.
The centre was created following a 2010 community evaluation by Neighbourhoods Alive!, the Manitoba government’s community rebuilding program that provides partial funding to the NECRC. The study found a need to encourage more economic development in the area.
"There’s many vacant and boarded-up businesses on Selkirk Avenue where it was once thriving," Neufeld said.
However, Neufeld stressed that Selkirk Avenue has enjoyed an upswing in recent months. He said it has become an "education hub" with the likes of the employment training centre Urban Circle and the Murdo Scribe Centre offering education and training.
Neufeld said one of the corporation’s primary goals is "economic development that supports businesses, which creates economic community that strengthens the community."
He said the NECRC has been making a concerted effort to fill storefront vacancies and improve the appearance of Selkirk Avenue through the corporation’s annual storefront enhancement program.
The organization has also purchased and renovated several buildings — including the Murdo Scribe Centre — with the goal of acquiring property for community empowerment.
Still, the business development centre will be a welcome addition to the neighbourhood, according to business development co-ordinator Richard Halliday.
"We don’t have people knocking on our door to start new businesses here," he said.
Attracting new entrepreneurs, especially from outside the neighbourhood, will be a major challenge, Halliday said. Low lease rates may encourage investment from outside the community and help grow businesses from within.
"The NEBDC and North End BIZ want to create a business environment in which people can buy local, thus keeping the economic stimulus local," Neufeld said, adding the Neechi Commons Community Business Complex on north Main is set to open later this fall.
Halliday said the centre’s first major task will be to create a list of available real estate on Selkirk Avenue, which will then be shared with the community and business associations.