I’m proud of the work that has been done by the last two terms of Council to revitalize the downtown (and which built upon the efforts of the term before). A plan was created, and has been stuck to pretty closely. The result is a downtown that is far more vibrant than many in our community could have believed ten or fifteen years ago.
With that said – more still needs to be done. We need to keep pushing forward in our efforts to make downtown vibrant. This means more residential, and finding a way to fill the vacant commercial space that still exists downtown.
With this in mind, I am looking to propose through the Budget process an addition to the Community Improvement Program. The CIP has been a major part of the revitalization we’ve seen in the downtown, from facade improvement grants to Tax Increment Financing that has existed over the last 13 years. The CIP was finally put on stable, sustainable financial footing this last term of Council, and I believe there is an opportunity to add to the CIP by implementing a Commercial Revitalization grant.
The downtown specifically has a lot of unused Commercial space, but much of it is old and dated, and difficult to rent. By providing incentives to property owners to update the commercial spaces they have, we can take advantage of the opportunities that will exist over the next 5 years with the coming of the GO train. Lease rates in St. Catharines are significantly less than in the GTHA – our downtown can become a prime place to relocate some commercial operations once there is a permanent non-highway transportation link to the GTHA. If we’re proactive about incentivizing commercial upgrades, we can be ready to pick up displaced operations over the next 5 years.
A number of people have also suggested looking at a renewed downtown residential CIP component, and I would be willing to look at that as well; the vibrancy of downtown depends on Commercial and Residential, and we need to do what we can to make sure both move forward in the coming term of Council.