Flush with new funding from the Region of Waterloo, and from a levy increase on member businesses as well, the Elmira Business Improvement Area (BIA) is looking to take a more directed approach to improving the town’s downtown core.
The BIA, which includes some 100 downtown members, is developing a new plan that they hope will direct future beautification efforts and visual improvements made to the core, as well as the businesses within.
Everything from the look and placement of benches and bicycle racks to the types of financial incentives available for storefront improvements is on the table, and the BIA executive is asking businesses and community members to help determine the kind of downtown they would like to see.
“We’re trying to start things and get things moving in the right direction, create a plan that is detailed, that [is strategic], that uses the community and the business members as a knowledge base to create something,” said BIA chair Jonathon Clay, who runs SOS Physiotherapy in Elmira.
The BIA are holding a second public consultation next week on the plan, the Elmira BIA: Improving the Public Realm, which is being developed by the Fergus-based design and planning firm Stempski Kelly Associates Inc. (SKA).
“I think the big goal is to create something that the township, that council can sink its teeth into as well and go ‘this is a worthwhile investment for our downtown,’ said Clay. “We’re 20 minutes from Kitchener-Waterloo, and I think as a board, as a community, business members that have come to meetings just feel that we should be better than we are.”
The plan would essentially help create a more unified look and style for Elmira’s core, with the ultimate goal of making the town friendlier and more inviting to visit.
“In the beginning stages, it will be some mild beautification things that the BIA can use their money for,” he explained. “Call it flowerpots, or receptacles or bike racks – the things that we sort of kicked around doing but haven’t really known what to do for ages. But I think that’s the small potatoes portion of it.”
The longer-term would see the adoption of a façade improvement program, where the BIA would offer financial incentives to businesses looking to improve the appearance of their buildings’ exteriors. To be eligible for the grant, the improvements would have to follow a “style guide” that would be created as part of the BIA plan.
“The plan at the end will have some sort of style guidelines: colours, types of frontages for businesses, etc. But it’s up to the business owner that is investing in their own building, which, with BIA funds, they can potentially use to offset that cost,” explained Clay.
The creation of the plan has received some support from business-owners in the Elmira core, such as from Kitchen Kutting co-owner Elmeda Weber.
“I think it’s a very good idea, revitalizing the downtown core and hopefully getting some good storefronts in the downtown Elmira,” said Weber. “And it’ll be good for shopping and for future customers just to see the downtown, and see what there is to offer.”
The creation of the Elmira BIA: Improving the Public Realm is a larger than usual undertaking for the BIA, which last year received approval from Woolwich council to increase levies for the first time since 1988. The BIA is funded by a special levy placed on those businesses in the catchment area of the BIA.
The approval essentially saw levies double on average for Elmira businesses, bringing the BIA’s total budget up to $50,000 from the previous $30,000. With the larger budget, and larger cost to the business-owners in the core, comes a greater expectation of the BIA’s role in shaping Elmira.
Clay admits the levy increase was not well received by some in the core, while the BIA has often struggled to garner support from the businesses it represents.
“I won’t mince words, I was a little concerned regarding the apathy of our membership and the business community in general. With just their involvement in wanting to do things. And it’s partly our fault,” said Clay.
“I think the BIA has had its struggle with what to do and how to do it, and so now we’re going to try and put that behind us and try and work with as much of the membership as will come out and give us a hand and give us input.”
Those interested in lending their input can do so at a public meeting being held next week, April 11, at the Elmira Library. The meeting runs twice during the day, in the afternoon from 2:30-4 p.m. and again in the evening 6:30-8 p.m.