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$60K in grants announced for downtown Orillia projects

Posted on Tuesday March 21, 2017

The first day of spring saw some money being handed out, so five buildings in the downtown core could get spruced up.

The first grants from the Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Plan (DTCIP) were announced Monday morning at the Orillia City Centre. Approximately $60,000 in funding for five projects was provided in the first of three intakes for the program in 2017.

That money represents about one third of the total funding available for the DTCIP this year. That was just a nice coincidence, said Laura Thompson, manager of real estate and commercial development.

"We're happy we were able to accommodate that," she said. "It just happened to work out that way. There was $185,000 allocated to the grant program in 2017. We didn't set aside funds for each of the intake periods, so it's really important people apply to the earliest intake period they can. Once the funds are gone, the funds are gone."

The current homes of Crossroads Staffing, Impression House, Entertest Corporation, the former home of Marvel Beauty School and the future home of the Koochaching Brewing Co. were the five locations announced as the first beneficiaries of the DTCIP. Most of the projects were funded as requested, Thompson said. Only in one case was the money requested different than what was granted, she added, because the request did not match exactly the criteria set out in the grant process.

In awarding the money, the economic development department looked at factors including staffing, useable area and liveable area additions, Thompson said. Historical data show an uptick in building permit applications in April and May, so staff are anticipating a more competitive process for the next intake, due April 30.

There are several ways to measure the benefit of the grants, the building owners suggested following the announcement. For Impression House, the business will become safer for its employees and customers.

"We're going to be replacing our stairs... (they've) been in dire need of finishing for a long time," said Carey Frantz of Impression House. "We were looking into replacing the stairs, because that's a safety issue, but now with this new grant money, we're able to do them a bit more properly, and look at the windows as well."

Crossroads Staffing had its plans expedited by receiving the grant.

"We would definitely be doing it, but whether we'd be doing it right now is the question," said Sandy Gamble of Crossroads. "It definitely helps to get it done in more timely fashion. Otherwise, we'd be looking at another six months down the road."

Mariano Tulipano's property at 27 Mississaga St. E. is currently vacant. Built in 1872, it's one of the oldest privately-owned buildings in the downtown core. When Marvel left, Tulipano was left with a "full gut" of the unit, the last one remaining untouched since the building was bought. The facade, flooring and HVAC improvements will be instrumental in securing a new tenant in the building.

"We purchased it at a point in time where it was ready for a serious run at improvements and renovations," said Tulipano, who has owned the property since 2008. "My experience has been that with street-level retail commercial space, if it's beautiful, you'll find a tenant. If a unit is in need of big ticket items, costing tens of thousands -- even hundreds of thousands of dollars in the case of some buildings on the street -- a tenant will come in, look, quickly do the calculation in their mind and they'll move on. They'll go someplace where the unit is ready."

Mayor Steve Clarke said the grants handed out Monday were given to businesses who exemplify exactly what the previous and current incarnations of city council have wanted to see through the Downtown Tomorrow Plan.

"One of the primary objectives of the Downtown Tomorrow Plan and the CIP is to have more people working downtown and living downtown," Clarke said. "It is about being more attractive for business, more attractive to live downtown."

The brewery received the largest grant at $24,050, while Tulipano's 1139102 Ontario Inc. was close behind at $20,570. Entertest Corporation and Impression House both received four-figure grants, worth $9,600 and $4,425, respectively, with Crossroads Staffing awarded $601 for its facade improvement.

The next set of grants should be announced in May, with the third for 2017 to be awarded in the fall.