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Downtown Orillia incentive program well worth the money

Posted on Thursday March 23, 2017
grant recipient winners and Mayor Clarke

Orillia Packet and Times

Some might lament the news this week that the city is, in a way, giving away money to private enterprises. It was announced Monday the municipality is providing almost $60,000 to aid five projects - four on the main street and one on Andrew Street.

The money is provided through the Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Plan (CIP) and represents the first of three intakes this year for the innovative program aimed at spurring development and regeneration of the downtown core. It is money well spent - a down payment, if you will, on the future.

The CIP was recommended in the ambitious Downtown Tomorrow plan of 2012 and approved by the current city council last summer. The CIP is a comprehensive array of tools aimed at attracting private investment in the city's core and includes incentives to complete feasibility/design studies, facade improvements, building improvements and grants for residential programs - among others.

"The incentive programs in the CIP will help foster the types of community improvement specified in the Downtown Tomorrow report," senior planner Jeff Duggan told the Packet & Times last year. The idea is to help promote building revitalization, upper-story residential conversions and, potentially, waterfront and brownfield redevelopment.

The five projects outlined Monday are not major, earth-shattering, landscape-altering initiatives. For example, the $600 granted to Crossroads Staffing to aid in facade improvement and the $4,425 awarded to Impression House to upgrade its stairs are relatively minor. But the $24,000 awarded to the future home of Koochaching Brewing Co. and the $20,000 that will be used to help breathe new life into the former home of Marvel Beauty School will aid in a pair of significant downtown ventures.

Mariano Tulipano, who has a proven track record of restoring downtown properties, said his grant money will be used to aid in the gutting of the former Marvel location that now sits vacant. "We purchased it at a point in time where it was ready for a serious run at improvements and renovations," said Tulipano, who bought the property in 2008. "My experience has been that with street-level retail commercial space, if it's beautiful, you'll find a tenant."

His plan is to make it beautiful, which is, essentially, the whole point of the program. The idea is to provide grant money that allows entrepreneurs to beautify their properties, to create upper-floor apartments and to help spur development.

"There is a misconception out there that the CIP is a gift, free money, but it's not," said Duggan, who noted the consultant who helped formulate the CIP estimates for every dollar the city provides as an incentive, $9 in private investment can be expected. "At the end of the day, it leverages private-sector dollars to incent development that may otherwise not happen."

This humble first intake illustrates that point. The hope is that, over time, this drop in the bucket becomes a pool of resources that produces a wave that washes through the downtown core with restorative powers. This is just the initial ripple; there is still more than $120,000 available this year, with more to be rolled out in subsequent years. We hope local entrepreneurs take advantage of the program and the opportunity to invest in our collective future.