Business owners fill out comment forms following a presentation by consultants hired by the Town of Bracebridge to refresh its community improvement plan. Consultants say the town’s current plan is too narrow in scope, and presented business owners with an array of new possibilities to encourage community and economic development.
Photo by Louis Tam
BRACEBRIDGE — Bracebridge business owners got a glimpse of some new community improvement and economic development possibilities last week.
While a community improvement plan has been in place for several years, two consulting firms say it could be expanded to include new features
Just under a dozen local merchants took part in a public discussion on the town’s community improvement plan on March 6. Although the town has had a community improvement plan in place for several years, two consulting firms hired by the town to refresh it say it could be expanded to include new features.
The two consulting firms, Zelinka Priamo and TCI Management Consultants, say the current plan’s scope is too narrow as it only gives incentives for beautification projects like signage and building facade improvements.
“One of the weaknesses is that it’s too focused on appearance,” said Michael Hannay, an urban designer with Zelinka Priamo. “At the moment, the community improvement plan is focused on the business improvement area.”
To broaden the range of improvement possibilities, the consultants unveiled a list of options for business owners to critique. They include a potential for tax relief programs, which are intended to help small business owners resolve a common dilemma in expansion or renovation efforts.
“You improve your property, but you increase your taxes,” said Hannay.
Specifically, he said tax relief could be granted for businesses undergoing improvement projects for a predetermined period of time. Taxes could be frozen for a few years, he said, then slowly raised to the amount of the full increase, giving the business owners time to adjust financially.
The team also listed heritage restoration, energy-efficiency retrofit, rental/housing and landscape improvement grants as possibilities, along with the potential for fee and permit rebates. The consultants say the community improvement program could also be expanded beyond the downtown business improvement area to include merchants in outlying areas. In addition to individual properties, they say entire neighbourhoods could be designated as community improvement areas under the program.
Karin Nickel, owner of the Worth Repeating store downtown, brought parking issues downtown to the attention of the consultants. Free parking, she said, is only available for two hours, which can hinder a consumer’s willingness to shop in the area.
“If they’re going for lunch or if they’re going shopping, they’re always watching the meter,” she said.
Pointing to the results of an online survey that wrapped up last week, the consultants say there is potential to improve the program’s usage in coming years. Half of the survey’s respondents said they weren’t familiar with the community improvement plan’s incentive programs, and nearly three-quarters said they’ve never taken advantage of them.
“Clearly there is a lack of awareness,” said Jon Linton, director of TCI Management Consultants.
However, Linton said he was encouraged by the fact that 40 per cent of the respondents say they plan on using the program’s incentives in the coming years.
Attendees were asked to submit comment forms after the presentation.
The consultants will take the merchants’ input into consideration when revising the community improvement program.
They say their next step is to prepare a formal report to be tabled for review and comment by the end of this month. A draft of their updated community improvement plan is expected to be available in April.