Facade data, preferences discussed
GRAVENHURST - Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a few simple but focused changes to the main street’s appearance can go a long way to drive the economy.
So says Sean Kelly, an owner of Stempski Kelly Associates Inc., who was in Gravenhurst Nov. 13 to kick off a facade improvement plan as part of the downtown revitalization project.
Through a series of quizzes and surveys, about 30 local business owners, municipal representatives and interested residents provided their thoughts on the future Gravenhurst during a design session held at the opera house that night. Kelly, who has helped a number of Ontario communities improve their streetscapes, said there are “good bones” in town to build on, but the key will be finding a facade improvement plan that is affordable for all and remains consistent in appearance.
“The biggest challenge in my work to a cohesive commercial district is the inability of building owners and/or tenants to invest in the communal appearance,” he said. “You can do as much as you want to your one building, whether you’re an owner or a tenant, all you’re doing is creating a destination in a sea of non-destinations; it’s that communal effort that’s really, really important.”
He said through plans like a Community Improvement Program that would provide some financial incentives to business operators to improve their facades, downtowns can improve in a focused and concerted effort. He said in his experience, the average investment to improve a store facing is about $2,400 and can go a long way in driving commercial traffic. Town director of development services Scott Lucas is currently working on a new Community Improvement Plan as part of the downtown revitalization project and will be using data collected from the session and a report to be created by Kelly to implement a facade improvement program.
“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good facade,” Kelly said, adding as the project progresses, facade and frontage guidelines will need to be created using a visual preference survey to find common ground with business owners. “But we have to make sure the municipal program is in tune with the community.”
Pointing out Gravenhurst’s inventory of historic buildings, Kelly said while some have great value commercially and historically, others may simply be old.
“Just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it should stay,” he said, adding the historic building still has to serve a purpose and fit in with the streetscape designs.
He said good examples in town would be the opera house, the post office or Carnegie Hall, which have all seen some facade and structural improvements in the past year. He said his overall impression of the downtown core’s appearance is positive, although inconsistent.
“But every community thinks it’s different from every other community; not so much,” he added. “In Gravenhurst you have lots of interesting buildings; there’s a lot to build on here.”