Rural Canadians learn from U.S. region: Part 4

bank vault

Melissa Collver of the Waterford Heritage & Agricultural Museum of Norfolk County inspects the former bank vault at the Arts Centre for Yates County / Photo: Hayden Dooney

After lunch on Day 1, the group walked to the Yates County Arts Centre and browsed the local art on display.

The tour of the Finger Lakes by rural small business owners from Norfolk County, Canada, was organized by Norfolk County Tourism & Economic Development and sponsored by Ontario’s Southwest Tourism.

We met Kris Pearson, Executive Director of the arts centre, who explained how the organization rejuvenated itself, including the renovation of an old bank as the art gallery. The renovation incorporated the bank vault into its exhibits.

One of the challenges was fundraising. Pearson, who has experience in that area in past positions, was surprised early on when her board seemed daunted by the need to raise only $15,000. Her attitude is that the needed money existed in the community. The obstacle is merely that no one has been asked to donate it. By engaging the community, the Yates County Arts Centre was able to listen carefully and designed a program that responded to community needs. As a result, funds are raised, educational programs are expanding, and workshops now take place in an upstairs space, as well as on the organization’s Sunny Point retreat property located on Keuka Lake.

Next, Steve Griffin of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Corp. hopped on the bus. His organization is the sole economic development agency responsible for Yates County. Steve gave us a tour of some of the town’s new developments, including three hotels and two high-end condominiums. The Microtel hotel is almost complete in the downtown core. Last month, developers received approval to proceed with a 72-room Hampton Inn on the waterfront.

Economic Development Officers

Photo: John Christensen, Chronicle-Express

Asked how the town could sustain so many rooms, Steve explained that Penn Yan only has one hotel currently, and lots of sports tourism business and corporate overnight stays were being lost because of the lack of accommodation. Steve’s organization was able to offer hotel developers grants, tax abatement and other incentives to sweeten the deal.

One person on our tour would later write that the key take-away for them was “how important it is to have lived-in downtowns.” Steve’s tour of downtown Penn Yan was the voted favourite stop of Day 1 among the tour group, in a survey.

During the dark days of the flooding of Penn Yan in spring 2014, many people in the area rallied together to get through the catastrophe. It is obvious that the folks of Penn Yan don’t sit around and complain. They work hard and improve! These are great lessons to be learned by any small town in the U.S. or Canada.

“Much of the success of the businesses was based on the theme of build it and they will come,” said another of our tour participants. “We don’t even know what markets we are missing out on if we don’t take a chance and create experiences for people visiting our are.”

While we were in Yates County, John Christensen, reporter for the Penn Yan Chronicle-Express, followed us around and wrote a nice article about the tour.

These were just a few of the stops along the way on the Norfolk County Finger Lakes Study Tour. Watch this blog for more chapters in the story. See photos of the trip on the Invest in Norfolk facebook page.

(c) Clark Hoskin 2015

Finger Lakes Study Tour blog posts

  • Part 1: Wine & Culinary Centre | Technology Farm
  • Part 2: Winewagen Tours
  • Part 3: Weaverview Farms | Milly’s Pantry
  • Part 4: Yates County Arts Centre | Finger Lakes Ec Dev
  • Part 5: Climbing Bines Hop Yard & Brewery
  • Part 6: Wiemer Vineyards | Glenora Cellars
  • Part 7: Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel | Ice Bar
  • Part 8: Finger Lakes Distilling
  • Part 9: Cornell Lab of Ornithology | Ithaca Commons
  • Part 10: Americana Vineyards
  • Part 11: Seneca County Army Depot
  • Part 12: Seneca Falls
  • Part 13: Warfields Restaurant
  • Part 14: Debriefing at The Combine