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Meet the new BIA heads on the north, south sides of the Thompson River

If there's a single fact the new heads of Kamloops' business improvement associations are united on, it's this: It's a great time to be in their respective areas.
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If there's a single fact the new heads of Kamloops' business improvement associations are united on, it's this: It's a great time to be in their respective areas. Both Jeremy Heighton, who took over as head of the North Shore Business Improvement Association earlier this month, and Carl DeSantis, who joined the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association this week, say there's plenty to be optimistic about on either side of the river.

"There's a lot of projects that are just being discussed or talked about or approved. We've got Brock [Shopping] centre which is doing extremely well. We've got the corner there on Eighth Street, which is doing pretty well," Heighton said. "We've got some issues in Tranquille which I think are going to be largely resolved by some of the steps we're taking. So it's a matter of taking the community forward."

DeSantis, meanwhile, said he hopes to tell more positive stories about downtown Kamloops and highlight what the neighbourhood has to offer.

"You look at the events downtown, and that's something I think we really need to showcase. Music in the Park downtown -- wow. I've been to that so many times and I absolutely love going down there. And it's free entertainment," he said. "You look at the activities for people of all ages, the pool, the waterfront. To have a waterfront with so much activity in the downtown core, where else does that happen?"

DeSantis said he also hopes to encourage more business development to go along with a number of new housing projects, both affordable and market, expected to bring more residents to the area. He also wants to push the area as a tourist destination.

A Calgary police officer for 30 years before founding a justice studies program at Bow Valley College, DeSantis said the KCBIA position may seem like a shift, but draws on many of the skills he used in both previous roles, including marketing and building relationships with the community.

"I want to meet people," he said. "I want to wander around and shake hands and listen to people's stories, and that is paramount to this position. It's about developing and sustaining all these relationships."

Heighton, previously the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce membership co-ordinator and a North Shore resident for 20 years, comes to the job after a tumultuous summer in the city's core areas. A survey of its members released by the BIA in September showed 78 per cent of business owners were dealing with loitering and drug use around their properties and 59 per cent of customers who responded were also concerned about those issues. The survey also pointed to concerns around rising graffiti and vandalism.

Asked how he sees the NSBIA responding to such issues, Heighton said a newly announced affordable housing project in the Tranquille Market, which will include round-the-clock support services, will resolve some of the area's concerns. He sees his association's job as making sure businesses have as much information as they need.

"It's a step," he said. "It's a step in the right direction and the alternative is we do nothing, and that's not acceptable either. We have to find as a community a way to help people transition out of poverty."

Heighton said his goal for the organization is to look at what will improve the North Shore over a longer term -- 30 years rather than three to five -- though what specific changes will be coming to the organization will come after a round of strategic planning in the near future. Heighton said his biggest question to the community will be what residents and business owners want the area to become.

"It's a matter of taking the community forward and finding ways to create more vibrancy here," he said. "Maybe it's a little more densification, maybe it's some more commercial opportunities, maybe there's more social services opportunities."