Leamington makes it easier to access $276,000 for uptown revitalization

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Windsor Star/Sharon Hill

Leamington council approved changes last week to make it easier for uptown stores to apply for grants and improve their facades, make store renovations or add a sidewalk cafe.

There’s $276,000 in the budget this year for the final push of a five-year community improvement plan for the uptown commercial district. In its first four years, 65 per cent of the available funding was not used.

“We have changed some of the rules to make it a little easier for people to access the funds and hopefully (they’ll) take advantage of it before the time runs out,” Leamington Mayor John Paterson said.

Businesses in the downtown — which Leamington cheerily calls its uptown — used $262,895 in grants between 2012 and 2015 with most of the money from the 47 grants going toward facades. More than $491,000 was available for matching grants but was not used. 

Wharram’s Jewellery received more than $6,000 in 2014 to restore the limestone columns at the entrance, redo the front steps and repoint the brick on the 110-year-old building that gives Talbot Street West much of its historic look.

Owner Wayne Wharram called it a “wonderful program” and hopes more businesses use the incentives this year. The town originally considered a 10-year, $1.35-million program before scaling it back to five years. Wharram is not against the boundaries being extended but the grants must continue to be offered in the uptown beyond 2016 so Leamington doesn’t miss out on investment, he said.

“We’re seeing a little bit of a resurgence uptown and you may get another landlord coming in and buying up some old property and want to refurbish it and want to do a new facade,” Wharram said.

He said the stores doing well against urban sprawl and big box stores are boutique or destination stores — like his — which can attract shoppers from Windsor or neighbouring towns.

The economy and a number of absentee landlords may be part of the reason the funding wasn’t used to its potential, Paterson said. Still, he said the program has been successful. A slow start was expected and councillors who got a recent update were asking about renewing the grants and looking at the boundaries for future revitalization efforts, he said.

Lisa Bradt, vice-chair of the Uptown Leamington BIA, applauded the rule changes to remove red tape.

“A few businesses have definitely done some significant upgrades to their buildings and I think that the momentum is growing,” she said.

Danielle Truax, Leamington’s manager of planning services, said it can take a while to see the cumulative effect of a number of stores improving their facades and redoing signs.

Truax said the minimum grant amount has been reduced so business owners can get back $500 if they spend $1,000 instead of having to spend at least $5,000.

Other changes include allowing property owners to use more than one grant, the elimination of requiring two quotes, allowing property improvements beyond just the building, and helping a new business with startup costs anywhere in the defined area instead of just Talbot Street East.