Storefronts get a hand up from city

City to introduce a facade improvement program for commercial.

Business owners looking to make facade improvements can now qualify for a financial hand up from the City of Port Alberni.

The proposal from economic development manager Pat Deakin came out of business walks that city council did in the fall.

“What we heard was that several business owners were thinking about making some facade improvements,” said Deakin.

The improvements business owners were proposing weren’t enough to qualify for the city’s commercial revitalization tax exemption bylaw, which offers a tax break on any increased assessed property values due to improvements.

The minimum improvement value needed to qualify for that is $100,000.

“It really came down to painting the store front or putting a new canopy on it or putting new windows in, putting in a new door… something that will change the look of it, catch the attention of people from the sidewalk or the road,” said Deakin.

A facade improvement bylaw could be “a stop gap” for improvements that didn’t meet the commercial tax revitalization bylaw criteria, said city planner Scott Smith.

Other municipalities have adopted similar bylaws successfully, he added, generally via matching funds.

Deakin suggested an annual budget of $10,000-25,000 for the program but was challenged by Coun. Sharie Minions who felt it was insufficient.

“I think this is something we could get a lot of uptake on and really see a drastic difference… but my thought was that $25,000 was low,” said Minions.

“I’d like to see a good difference so that people could actually feel the difference. My thought was $50,000.”

Minions added that for the first year of the program, she would like to see it target key areas.

“I’d like to see it specific to main streets like lower Johnston, lower Argyle and Third Avenue so that we’re getting the biggest effect.”

Deakin added that some communities were even more specific and chose to focus on corner properties for the biggest impact.

Coun. Ron Paulson suggested that the program be first-come first-serve and provide up to $5,000 in matching funds but Mayor Mike Ruttan suggested that be left up to the discretion of Deakin and Smith.

“The advantage of a first-come [system] is that you get the applications coming in right away,” said Deakin.

Staff will prepare a program for council to review.

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