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New BIA boss wants to showcase downtown's 'unbelievable uniqueness'

Collingwood resident says she'd like to use that Georgian Bay town as a model for what downtown Barrie could become

While the Downtown Barrie Business Improvement Association (BIA) goes through many ups and downs over the next few weeks and months, they will have a new face for the organization.

The Kelly McKenna era has begun.

McKenna began her new job on March 2, after finishing up her position at the County of Simcoe. 

She saw the job posting for a BIA executive director shortly after Craig Stevens stepped down in late November 2019 to take a new role with the RVH Foundation.

McKenna, who was working in economic development at the county, told BarrieToday she was intrigued by the posting, having already worked with many city business associations and chambers of commerce.

“I had worked with a lot of people in Barrie in different aspects. I’d worked with people at the Sandbox, at the chamber of commerce (and) at city hall, so all the networking was there,” she said.

While she has lots of economic experience, where McKenna lives is another reason to seek her expertise on the downtown’s future.

“I live in Collingwood and I think that town is a great model for what Barrie is going through right now,” McKenna said. “I remember moving to Collingwood 10 years ago and the street was all ripped up and had shops that weren’t necessarily going to drive businesses forward.

"It was deserted, and now look at it today," she added. "Collingwood is thriving and Barrie is going to as well.”

A meet-and-greet with McKenna will be held this morning starting at 11:30 a.m. at the Sandbox Centre, located at 24 Maple Ave., above the downtown bus terminal. The event runs until 2 p.m.

The Downtown Barrie BIA has been making headlines lately after a byelection to replace six outgoing board members has been stalled by voting confusion.

There's also the huge Dunlop Street revitalization project that has been shutting down the mai drag for months and will continue throughout the year.

McKenna says the most important part of her job right now is to make sure people know the downtown is open for business.

“Sure, there is construction happening and it looks like you can’t get around, but that is not true at all,” she said. “The shops are open and we want folks to come down and eat, shop and walk around.

"I think it is really important that people realize this is a short-term pain for long-term gain," McKenna added. 

With a week on the job, McKenna has been making the rounds and introducing herself to the many business and property owners who will be hoping she and her staff are doing what they can to get shoppers and customers to their part of the city.

McKenna has also been in meetings with her staff, Stacey Zubczyk and Kristen Eatch, and being brought up to speed on the current happenings and what is planned for the future.

McKenna says she hopes everyone realizes what an asset the downtown is for Barrie.

“We’ve been brainstorming lots as a team, but any new ideas we bring on we will make the membership is good with them, that it is good for them and their purposes,” she said. 

“I don’t really think there is anywhere else in Ontario that has their downtown facing the lake, with an events stage doing that, too," McKenna added. "We have an unbelievable uniqueness to us and we will continue to find ways to showcase it to everyone from residents and visitors.”