During last month’s financial planning sessions, there was some concern about whether the city should continue its Downtown Façade Improvement Program, considering applications to take advantage of the initiative haven’t been materializing.
The program is designed to match contributions from businesses – up to $10,000 – who want to improve the exterior of their buildings. The city has been setting aside $25,000 per year since the program’s inception in 2014, but only six buildings have been improved under the initiative in that time, for a total city grant contribution of $51,000.
So council asked city staff to come back with a business case to see if it was worth continuing the program. Staff came to the recommendation that the program be continued downtown, but also incorporate a similar program for signage and look at how these programs could be expanded to include other areas of the city in the future so more businesses could take advantage of it.
The city’s sign bylaw needs updating anyway, the report says, so it would make sense to offer a similar program for signage to be implemented once the bylaw is updated.
But Coun. Ron Kerr wanted to see the program expanded to other areas of the city sooner rather than later.
“I really do feel that these programs are really under-subscribed in the downtown area and it would certainly be a good idea to expand them,” Kerr said. “Certainly through Campbellton along 19A to the highway – that’s one of the gateways to the downtown core, so I’m certainly thinking there’s logic to that…but for Willow Point, too.”
But the rationale for not expanding the program this year is that the city can’t give grants directly to businesses.
They have to be awarded to Business Improvement Associations (BIAs), according to Ron Neufeld, the city’s general manager.
“We have some limitations in terms of providing funding through a program like this,” Neufeld said. “Anything the city does, we have to be sensitive to our limits on providing assistance directly to business. For these kinds of programs, the best way for us to avoid that conflict is to work through a BIA. Currently, downtown has a BIA, as does Willow Point. The Pier Street Association is not, nor is Campbellton (Neighbourhood Association), so there are some challenges in providing funding to those groups.
“We could look at whether there are other mechanisms available to work outside the BIA model, but that was the preferred model provided to us through our lawyer’s advice and at this time we’re not aware of another model that would work.”
Coun. Colleen Evans said she thinks the addition of the new Signage Incentive Program should increase the interest in applying for the grants while they examine how to best expand the program.