Fort Erie incentive program provides a facelift
A good commercial district needs a few things: a variety of stores, a place to grab a coffee, some neat boutique shops and a prime location.
But it also needs to look warm and inviting, something which some of the shopping strips in Fort Erie were missing.
But thanks to local government-backed community improvement programs (CIPs), the key commercial areas in town have been getting a facelift.
“The CIPs have been an absolute godsend for us,” said George McDermott, the ward councillor for the north end of Fort Erie, which includes the historic Jarvis Street commercial block. “The look of this street has been transformed over the last few years, and a big part of that is the CIPs and the funding that helps these businesses.”
CIPs vary between municipalities, but the main goal is always the same: to spur investment and development to traditional commercial areas, not big box stores or shopping malls. In Fort Erie, the CIPs include a variety of incentives targeted toward both attracting new retail storefronts, and redeveloping the ones that already exist.
By leveraging those incentives, places such as the F8 Salon were able to complete dazzling redesigns of their storefront, bringing a sleek and modern feel to a place that was starting to show its age a bit too much.
“With the salon, we were able to waive the development charges and do a couple other things that helped that project along,” said McDermott.
Jarvis Street has been the commercial hub in Fort Erie for more than a century, but over those years, some parts have been allowed to fall into disrepair. Part of the CIP package for that area included incentives for property owners to renovate the upstairs apartments above the commercial storefronts before. By encouraging the second-floor redevelopment, the first-floor retail spaces were also getting a sprucing up of their own.
While the CIPs have been working well in Jarvis Street, there’s more work to be done, and McDermott hopes that Niagara Region, which partners with the lower municipalities to fund the programs, keeps the taps on.
“That’s the big question right now, is whether the Region is going to keep the funds flowing, or will they cut it off,” he said. “We’d really like to see the program continue because it’s doing a lot of good here.”
Last year the program became a victim of its own success, with so many businesses applying for funding, that the Region burned through its entire allotment of cash — more than $400,000 — set aside for this year.
“The success of the (CIPs) speak for themselves,” said Mayor Wayne Redekop in a statement last year about keeping the programs going.
“These programs have helped revitalize not only our downtowns, but also downtown areas throughout Niagara. Many municipalities are testaments to the positive impact these programs have had since their inception. As a whole, we can all benefit from the increased assessment of newly renovated commercial properties and the creation of new rental units above storefronts in Niagara.”
Throughout Fort Erie, 27 projects tapped into CIP incentives, with another six in the pipeline.
Fort Erie Coun. George McDermott says community improvement programs have helped spruce up the town’s shopping districts.