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Thunder Bay revamps its downtown areas improvement plan

The changes are aimed at helping property owners with smaller-scale improvements
Red River Rd at Court, winter

THUNDER BAY — The City of Thunder Bay's planning division is proposing new incentives to promote the revitalization of the two downtown cores, as well as commercial areas along Simpson Street and Frederica Street.

Additions to the existing Strategic Core Areas Community Improvement Plan (CIP) would help property owners pay for improvements to the exterior of buildings, fill up vacant space, encourage main floor commercial use, and introduce second-storey residential units.

This approach is different from the existing plan, which is aimed at attracting larger-scale investments.

The current plan requires a minimum investment of $10,000 by a building owner, and provides a grant of five per cent of the cost. It also offers a waiver of planning fees and reimbursement of building permit fees.

Renovations for three major projects – Take A Hike on McKellar Street, the Courthouse Hotel on Camelot Street, and The Chanterelle on Park Avenue – all qualified for the maximum grant of $25,000 under the existing program.

Believing there was a need for more options, city council earlier this year asked the Planning Services Division to review the CIP and identify additional ways to promote the long-term economic recovery of the core areas.

Consultations were held with other northern Ontario municipalities, the Business Improvement Areas, property owners, other stakeholders, and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

Planning Services Supervisor Devon McCloskey says the outcome is to make additions to the CIP that should benefit smaller property owners and smaller projects.

"We're not necessarily expecting to attract a large development out of this. We're looking to make the most out of what we've got" in the downtown areas, McCloskey told TBnewswatch.

The new incentives include three components:

Commercial Conversion - Main Floor

  • Cost of renovating and converting main floor residential to commercial use
  • 50% of costs up to a maximum of $10,000
Residential/Office Conversion - 2nd Floor
  • Cost of renovating and converting second floor or higher units to residential or office use
  • 50% of costs up to a maximum of $10,000

Commercial Facade Improvement Grant

  • A grant for commercial building owners or tenants improving the facade of their commercial storefront buildings
  • Not intended for residential purposes
  • 50% up to a maximum of $10,000

McCloskey said developing residential use on the second floor of buildings, and commercial use at ground level, has been "a slow transition in the south core. There seems to be less commercial on the main floor, so that has potential to have impact."

She said the planning division has heard from the business community that it wants to make sure "there's still that consistency of a commercial strip. So if we can do something to encourage that, it's highly supported by the business community."

The motive behind supporting facade improvements, McCloskey said, is to encourage shoppers and "trying to bring people back" to the cores.

Unlike the original components of the CIP, the new elements don't necessarily require property owners to take out a building permit, and there is no minimum spending requirement.

However, some property owners could qualify for assistance under both the old provisions and the new ones.

In Ontario, Community Improvement Plans are legislated under the Planning Act. 

They are intended "to help disadvantaged properties to be able thrive again," McCloskey said.

The legislation sets out the criteria for what a CIP can do, "so there needs to be justification behind the money that you're giving, which ultimately is an investment for the property owner, but the city would see it as an investment in the city too."

McCloskey added that there's been a good uptake in Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Kenora, where similar incentives have already been implemented.

"I have a pretty good feeling about these programs," she said. 

A public meeting about the proposed additions to the CIP is scheduled for Monday, December 14 at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.

The report to be considered at the meeting will be available Wednesday, December 9 online at






Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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