An idea to help revitalize the downtown core of Bradford-West Gwillimbury at the turn of the millennium has broadened and evolved into a demonstrably fruitful key economic development initiative which has brought hundreds of millions of dollars, and over 1,000 new jobs in the community.
Town council established two Community Improvement Plans or CIPs in 2012 to offer financial incentives to encourage entrepreneurs and larger businesses to invest in specific areas of the community. The DowntownCommunity Improvement Plan (DCIP) focused on attracting investment in the downtown core, as well as intensifying the residential population of the area.
A concurrent Industrial Areas Community Improvement Plan (IACIP) specifically targeted the Artesian Industrial Park, (located in the northeast of BWG’s urban area) and Reagens Industrial Park, (located in the northwest part of the urban area. A third CIP, for seniors’ residential development had a shorter term and is no longer available after fulfilling its mandate of providing 250 living units for seniors.
As the most recent five-year CIP term expired at the end of 2021, following a brief extension due to COVID, the BWG Office of Economic Development approached Council to gauge their interest in proceeding with a modified program or programs for 2022. The OED is now in the process of bringing options forward for Council’s consideration.
“There was a bit of a layoff because of COVID, but this is the normal time when the CIP program was supposed to be up for consideration again. Council wants to take a hard look at it, what has worked, is there still a need for the programs, and if we do need them, are they functioning the way we want them to,” said Michael Kemp Marketing Coordinator, Office of Economic Development for BWG.
“We know there is an appetite from Council to bring back a revised DCIP and IACIP with some tweaks based on consultations we’ve had over the last couple of months. As the administrator of the program, I have sat in on all the council meetings relating to the CIP and all the applications, so I have picked up years of feedback from council and the other stakeholders. We have heard what people have said and the goal is to adjust the programs to make them even more effective and fit in with council’s current priorities.”
Two decades ago, there was concern over the future viability and sustainability of the downtown core in Bradford-West Gwillimbury, as there were similar concerns in communities throughout the province and country. The council at the time made downtown vitality a strategic priority as far back as the Official Plan of 2002. A subsequent comprehensive downtown revitalization study recommended the creation of a Community Improvement Plan to stimulate investment in the downtown. After deliberations with the commercial, industrial and manufacturing sectors, it was also decided that a similar plan would be appropriate to help attract development two the two already-designated industrial parks.
Funding for each program is approved by Council and is part of BWG Economic Development’s annual budgetary allotment. Council also provides final approval for all recipients. The DCIP is primarily for business owners to improve the inside or outside (or both) of their existing building, or indeed to expand. Assistance comes in the form of grants and/or interest free loans to pay a percentage of the costs of the improvements.
“The downtown has a lot of old-stock buildings, and some of the infrastructure dates to the mid-1800s. That needed to be improved it we were going to attract new business there, and to attract apartments as well. People want modern infrastructure. We wanted to ensure that the downtown was getting it’s share of new investment as other parts of the municipality were, because a functioning downtown business environment is good for the whole town,” Kemp explained.
“Improving the façade of a business or the interior would help existing businesses and also encourage new ones to come downtown. So the program would encompass anything from new doorways and windows, to making the entranceway fully accessible. Interior work included updated electrical, updated plumbing, improving HVAC, creating new interior office spaces, flooring – there are a wealth of different things you can potentially upgrade. A more attractive and functional building would entice people to come down and shop, while bringing the old infrastructure up to modern building codes would allow them to accommodate the particular demands of newer businesses.”
The IACIP program focussed on offsetting costs that companies face when expanding their operations. These incentives could include direct grants/loans for improvements to the building, but for most larger-scale clients, they come through Tax Increment Grants or the deferment of development charges.
“If you were creating a new structure or an addition to an existing structure, these two programs would be in play. When you add an addition, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) is going to reassess the property and the annual property tax is going to go up accordingly, because you’ve added value to the property by having a larger, more functional and profitable building,” Kemp explained.
“A tax increment grant offsets that increase in the taxes after MPAC’s reassessment, for a certain period of time. It takes a little bit out of the bite of putting money into a facility just to see your tax rates go up. Development charges are levied by municipalities so that roadways, water, wastewater and other services can be added to this new property and structure. What this program does is offset the burden a little bit to come and develop here.”
Since the CIPs were established, the municipality has invested more than $2.49 million in the downtown through the DCIP and approximately $1.27 million in the IACIP program.
“At the inception, we had a much higher vacancy rate in the downtown. When some money was invested to refurbish some of these buildings, they attracted new businesses. The new businesses created jobs, so there are more people being employed, more wages being paid out, and all of this attracted more people shopping in the downtown, which was good for everyone,” said Kemp.
“And the interesting thing is that these programs are often a way for an entrepreneur to kickstart a renovation or improvement to their infrastructure. It’s really an incentive for members of the private sector, from small business owners to large corporations to invest. And the real benefit to the whole municipality is what we call the multiplication effect. The amount of money that we as a municipality invest through these programs, incentivizes further investment.”
Through the two CIP programs, and a time-limited CIP program supporting seniors’ accommodations, BWG has leveraged $325 million in new capital projects undertaken by those participating in the CIP programs. The additional property tax revenue generated due to lower vacancy rates and more new building and expansion can be reinvested into all sorts of programs to benefit the community and its residents.
“People see the program as a kick start; it was a lifeline and provided a key incentive to locate or expand or refurbish their business here. In other cases, they were encouraged to invest by the welcoming feeling that these programs created. It felt to them that the municipality had “skin in the game” and wanted you to succeed by establishing or growing your business here in BWG.
A draft of the new CIP plan is being finalised after internal review from municipal officials. In early March, the final draft will be sent to various external stakeholders, including Simcoe County and also for public review and commentary. A public meeting will be held on March 22. It is expected that a final draft of the new CIP plan will be completed by the first week of April, and if approved by Council at its April 19 meeting, applicants could be accepted before the end of the month.
For more information, visit https://www.gotobwg.ca.