Wayfinding is sign of the times

The Roman playwrite Plautus is credited with the line, “You must spend money to make money,” which has become a mantra for entrepreneurs everywhere.

The City of Parksville is banking on the term remaining relevant all these centuries later as it embarks on a $168,000 program to, well, bring more money to the community.

The city’s wayfinding project grew indirectly from the creation in 2006 of its Downtown Business Association, and directly from the city’s own Community Master Plan in 2013.

With the PDBA taking the lead, a local wayfinding program began to take shape the following year, in a process that finally came before council this spring with a dollar figure attached.

Hotly debated at the council table, and among some members of the public who attended the city’s public budget deliberations, a wayfinding system was seen alternately as an indispensable part of Parksville’s effort to boost tourism, or a boondoggle designed to create a solution for which there is no problem.

Parksville is a small enough community that visitors should have no problem finding what they’re looking for, critics argued. Or, everybody plans their trip online these days and knows exactly where they’re going and what they’ll do well before they pull out of their own driveways.

On the other hand, the wayfinding system’s promoters are putting their own skin in the game. The PDBA is made up of downtown merchants who already pay a levy into the organization to benefit from its combined promotional power.

And the PDBA has committed $97,000, more than a third of the total cost, toward the Parksville wayfinding project.

PDBA executive director Pamela Bottomley shared research that showed as much as an 18 per cent boost in business following the installation of a comprehensive wayfinding system in other communities.

Parksville’s downtown businesses, of course, stand to benefit the most from a similarly successful outcome locally.

But they also pay into the general tax fund. So when they benefit, the entire community benefits. If their bet pays off and wayfinding brings more visitors into the community, the system is no longer a cost.

It’s an investment.

— Parksville Qualicum Beach News