Town manager proposes grant program for local businesses and stresses need for downtown theme

A grant program to provide downtown business owners with funds to improve their storefronts was approved in principal at Monday night’s council meeting.

A coordinated plan to develop a visual theme for the downtown was also floated by economic development director Gary Schatz.

The Bridge Street Revitalization Program would cover up to $5,000 for business owners to update their front facades, and $2,000 would be available for side building improvements.

Schatz suggested to council that $25,000 would cover the pilot project for its first year.

“Similar programs have been done in other places. I have some experience when this was done where I came from…and it was very well received,” he said.

“The main thing with this program is to change the appearance of our downtown and to liven up our storefronts.”

After the meeting Schatz explained the program is just one part of an overall downtown improvement scheme that will eventually include creating an aesthetic theme.

“It can’t be all hodge-podge.”

Schatz said he has been working on a beautification program since he was hired for his position late last year.

“The first thing we started with was the [Princeton] app,” said Schatz. The town also recently applied for a $100,000 provincial grant for downtown improvements that are likely to include signage and branding.

While he stated there are several themes under consideration for adoption for downtown facades, he also said he could not disclose them at this time. Schatz stressed the success of such a project would hinge on every business participating.

Under the grant program businesses would be required to submit proposals for their improvements. Once approved and the work is completed, the business owner could submit receipts and be reimbursed for the costs.

A hiccup occurred following Schatz’s presentation.

A motion to approve the idea was made by councillor Doug Pateman and seconded by councillor Kim Maynard.

During the discussion period Maynard remarked that “it sounds like a really good idea because I don’t see this happening for all the businesses any other way, unless we have some kind of incentive like this.”

Acting CAO Lyle Thomas then recognized councillor Jerome Tjerkstra, who said he would step out of the room citing conflict of interest.

Tjerkstra and his wife own Thomasina’s Cafe on Bridge Street.

“I think I have to recuse myself from this discussion as I could benefit from this,” he said.

Maynard, who also owns a downtown property, quickly declared his own conflict and both councillors left the council chambers.

The original motion was withdrawn and then Pateman moved that council approve the grant program, in principal only, until staff provides more details.

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