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Provincial funding for downtown improvements

Efforts to spruce up the downtown cores of Elmira and St. Jacobs are likely to get an equal boost from some new provincial funding, though the business group in Elmira has its eye on all of the $51,710 available through Ontario’s Main Street Revitalization Initiative (OMSRI).

A representative from both the Elmira Business Improvement Area (BIA) and its St. Jacobs counterpart made pitches last week to Woolwich council.

The St. Jacobs BIA wants its half – $25,855 – to help with the beautification tasks it’s taken over from Mercedes Corporation as it exits the village. The Elmira BIA, however, has broader plans that include streetscaping and facade upgrades to the buildings downtown.

Bob Wilbur of the St. Jacobs BIA said the extra funding would allow for some “small ‘i’ infrastructure’ improvements, including the replacement of deteriorating benches, garbage containers and flowerboxes. In the past, such maintenance issues were handled by Mercedes, the longtime property and business owner in the village that had been divesting in recent years prior to being sold.

Mercedes withdrawal “put us in quite a stage of change – we’re trying to adapt to that change,” said Wilbur, noting the BIA doesn’t have the company’s resources that used to get things done.

For Elmira BIA chair John Clay, however, the fact that the St. Jacobs business group already has a larger budget means it might be worthwhile to use all of the OMSRI funding to support his organization’s more aggressive plan.

“I do feel that Elmira is in real need of those dollars,” he said, noting the group is working on a formal community improvement plan (CIP) that will allow it to seek out other grants and funding programs for larger projects such as facade improvements.

The Elmira BIA has engaged Fergus-based planners Stempski Kelly Associates to help develop the plan.

The firm’s Sean Kelly explained a formal CIP is needed to pursue avenues of funding, with a detailed plan to outline projects such as streetscaping and facade upgrades that present a unified, communal feel to the downtown.

Raj Sian, Woolwich’s economic development and tourism officer, said the BIA and its members will go looking for incentive dollars for improvements once the plan is in place.

“The community improvement plan will be the first CIP for Woolwich. SKA Consultants will work the next four months to develop a CIP that meets the needs of the business community of the Elmira BIA and will present a final version for approval to Council. Council will have final approval of the CIP before it is adopted and implemented,” she said in a report to council.

While supportive of the Elmira BIA’s efforts, her report recommends a 50-50 split of the provincial money.

Though no decision was made last week, councillors appeared to be leaning in that direction, as well.

“We do have two BIAs and two business areas – I think it’s appropriate to share,” said Mayor Sandy Shantz.

“The only fair way to do it is to share the grants,” added Coun. Larry Shantz.

Ontario is investing up to $26 million in the OMSRI, which will be administered by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and its rural arm, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association.

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