Incentive Plan Will Encourage Private Investment in Downtown Rejuvenation

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Photo Karen Graham.
A new incentive plan can help offset the expense of upgrading heritage buildings that give the downtown core its character.

More than a year in the works, the Millbrook Community Improvement Plan (CIP) received Council approval on September 4th.

This development tool will allow the municipality to extend financial assistance to property owners and tenants who undertake private investment projects aimed at revitalizing the area and reflect community values and priorities in the downtown core.  The objective is to ensure it remains the focal point for tourism and commercial activity in the township.

Building on other planning documents including the 2011 Strategic Plan, the Downtown Millbrook Revitalization Strategy and the Detailed Streetscape and Design Guidelines for Downtown Millbrook and incorporating extensive public feedback, this ten year program extends municipal support through grants and property tax breaks.  Eligible projects will physical improvements that enhance the commercial core, resulting in vibrant, well-maintained store fronts and signage, improved access and linkages between the downtown and other areas.

Beautification and restoration of the downtown area is one of the key goals of the plan.   Improvements to façades, landscapes and signage particularly those that emphasize heritage features as well as structural repairs improving functionality including parking and accessibility will be eligible for support.

Another objective of the plan is to reduce the number of vacant, under-utilized or non-functional buildings and properties.  Priority will be placed on projects that involve the redevelopment or reconfiguration of existing building and landmarks.  Efforts will be made to attract a diverse mix of uses and businesses in the downtown core to attract and retain residents, businesses and visitors.  More affordable, alternative and rental housing units can also be encouraged through this program.   Improved signage and improved linkages in the area will enhance resident and visitor experiences and will direct pedestrian traffic to the town’s natural and cultural heritage assets.

Council may identify priority sites where an opportunity exists to make a significant impact due to their location, significance or redevelopment potential to enhance the available incentives. Target uses for priority sites may also be identified to encourage specific types of redevelopment.  An example of a priority site could be the Millbrook Arena, the vacant lot across from the Millbrook Foodland or the former service station location beside the Post Office on ___ Street.

To be eligible, projects must fall within the designated area of the plan, and must result in improvement or rehabilitation of a location and not represent life cycle replacement.  Projects must also comply with the township’s Detailed Streetscape and Design Guidelines set out in 2017, and complement its surrounding architecture and natural setting.  Most grant values are calculated on a cost-sharing basis with up to 50% of project costs funded by grants with maximums for each type of project.

A committee charged with implementing the plan and monitoring its effectiveness will be chaired by Economic and Community Development Co-ordinator Brigid Ayotte, who has spearheaded the project thus far.  This group will provide guidance to applicants, evaluate all projects and ultimately evaluate the entire program.  Criteria will include economic as well as social measure to ensure municipal investments are providing effective contributions to the community.

While the CIP includes a wide variety of tools to stimulate specific types of projects, not all tools are always available.  The plan allows for specific types of projects to take priority at different times.

During 2018 and 2019, grant programs relating to projects addressing façades and signage, building and site improvement and sidewalk café will be activated. The immediate focus is on aesthetic and functional improvements to buildings and properties to help promote a lively and vibrant streetscape in the downtown core.

Other grants available for future implementation include ones aimed at creating new rental housing, ones for commercial conversion and expansion projects and public art grants.

Of the $60,106 budget available in 2018, $25,000 is allocated to both façade and signage Improvement and building and site improvement, with the remaining $10,106 allocated to sidewalk café projects with any unused funds rolled over to the 2019 budget.   The fund allocation is determined each year through the annual budget process.

In approving this powerful economic development tool, Council has commited to encouraging local investment, revitalization and beautification activities that will enhance the economic, social and cultural life in the community.  KG

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