The problems and grievances of downtown businessmen came to the forefront Tuesday after Shmuel Farhi’s rant at a meeting of the London Better Business Association.
“Everything here is a bullish bunch,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Farhi’s message included concerns about the closure of many downtown businesses, the withdrawal of WSIB from its core, and the relocation of hundreds of employees to the suburbs.
BIA Chairman Scott Collier has known Farhi for 30 years and was not surprised by the outburst.
“I very much agree with many complaints [of] Because obviously all of our members feel that emotion,” he said.
However, Mr. Collier did not agree with Mr. Farhi’s presentation.
“My approach is, ‘In public it’s praise, in private it’s right,'” he explained.
Ibrahim Lin, a journalism student at Fanshawe College, had intended to cover the quiet meeting, but ended up recording the rant.
“I thought today was going to be a down day, and then I just completely exploded,” he said.
After the meeting, CTV News London contacted Farhi to speak.
“We decided to honestly express the frustrations our tenants are feeling and convey a true picture of downtown that many are afraid to mention,” he said in a statement.
The commercial vacancy rate in downtown London is 30 per cent, “the highest in Canada,” Farhi said.
Farhi said crime, homelessness and drug use have reached “crisis levels” that are preventing people from living and working in the core and have already caused a mass exodus of major tenants, including federal, state and city halls. He said that
“Despite significant spending on research, strategic planning, meetings, and task forces, the socio-economic conditions of downtown continue to deteriorate year after year,” Farhi’s statement said.
Although the BIA only has the budget to make so many changes, Collier believes it may need to reassess the future of downtown London.
“We need to take a step back and take a long-term view, 15 to 20 years, and look at what downtown will look like in 2040 to 2050,” he says.
In a statement, Farhi reiterated his commitment to working closely with the city and BIA to revitalize the downtown core.
“We consider our downtown to be both our business card to the world and the heart and soul of our community,” Farhi’s statement concluded.