Executive Committee Approves Facade Program
A hidden pot of gold containing $20,000 without a leprechaun in sight set off lively discussion during last night’s Executive Committee meeting.
During discussion of what is commonly routine acceptance of the Heritage Advisory Committee's minutes the Committee was asked to approve a Facade Improvement Grant. Under terms of the one year pilot program qualifying Downtown businesses will be able to restore their facades on a 50-50 cost sharing basis up to a maximum $5000 grant.
Speaking to the Committee Economic Development Officer Jim Dixon said “the facade program comes out of the Local Area Plan for the Downtown.”
Dixon said the incentive helps to carry on the theme of the Downtown.
“It gives opportunity for local businesses to take advantage and give support in order to get their buildings up to speed,” he said.
Councillor Brian Swanson questioned the intelligence of such a program.
“There have been other facade programs and their objectives and I remember them fizzling and fading out,” Councillor Swanson said.
Calling it a new program he asked if the City was in any position to start a new program given other pressing needs.
“I can assure you giving away money will always be successful.”
He went on to say it was “another magic pot of money we can take money out of” going on to state he was still waiting for a report he had requested on these magic pits of money which kept appearing.
Councillor Swanson said the program showed favouritism as the program worked by collecting from everyone “to give back to certain people.”
“We should collect less tax so these businesses can make adjustments to their own business...we should be in crisis mode,” he said.
“We have a capital budget that borrows $45 million on top of $30 million last year and $18 million we don’t know where we are (going to finance),” Councillor Swanson said, adding “tax commercial properties less and let them make business decisions instead of giving it to certain people.”
Councillor Dawn Luhning asked for clarification where the money was going to come from.
Finance Director Brian Acker replied it was from the Innovative Housing Project funds carried forward from last year.
“I agree with Councillor Swanson...there is some merit that discussion should be about these little pots of money…I prefer if something like this came to us as a new item on Budget.
Councillor Crystal Froese said restoring business facades was part of the 2017 Downtown Local Area Plan.
“The heritage appearance of our Downtown has been listed as one of our top features,” Councillor Froese said, adding “this is $20,000 from a reserve account and if it isn’t utilized it will sit there doing nothing.”
“I don’t see this as a huge risk it is just money sitting there...if we don’t do anything with this it goes back to the reserve.”
Councillor Froese spoke about if nothing was done what really happens there would be a dusty Downtown Plan sitting on a shelf.
Councillor Eby favoured the expenditure stating the funds could give Downtown businesses “encouragement in a time when there is little to be encouraged about.”
“If we saw four new facades Downtown that would be great,” Councillor Eby said.
Councillor Chris Warren typified the Local Downtown Area Plan as a plan for the future and “when I voted for the Downtown Plan we dedicate some resources to it.”
Councillor Warren said anything when compared to the need of replaced other infrastructure such as cast iron water mains was going to lose out.
The facade program was approved in a 4-3 vote with Councillors Scott McMann, Luhning and Swanson opposed.
Just prior to the vote another debate ensued regarding spending $2,500 to sandblast and paint the City's first ever bell.
Purchased well over a century ago for $100, the bell has served for such functions as being on a derrick and ring at curfew time during Prohibition, then put on the old City Hall, displayed in Crescent Park until it was removed due to a vandalism threat and stored at the City Yards.
“It weighs over a ton,” Councillor Froese said, adding “the idea is to have it installed somewhere in the Downtown but we don’t know (where) right now.”
Asked about the costs of installing the bell by Councillor Swanson the member of the Heritage Advisory Committee said she didn’t know the exact costs.
The group was presently looking at old photos and the archives to determine how to mount it, she replied.
Councillor Swanson spoke about the $23,000 the Heritage Advisory Committee had in a bank account as coming from expenditures deferred as well as volunteer fundraising efforts such as the stained glass tours being raised “in hopes the Natatorium would become some type of community project.”
“Our hope was it was to be part of the money to refurbish the Natatorium,” he said.
Despite the Councillor pointing out the history of the fund the Committee approved $2,500 to be spent sandblasting and painting the historic Bell in a 6-1 vote.