Efforts are underway at city hall to encourage business owners to update and improve the look of the front of their buildings through a facade-improvement program.
Facade-improvement programs are not a new thing in a number of BC communities and have been met with resounding success, according to City of Powell River director of planning services Tom Knight.
According to Knight, Revelstoke, where he was previously employed, Nelson, Fernie and Port Alberni have all benefitted from their own programs where run down or out-of-date storefronts are receiving a makeover.
“What we'd like to be able to do is use funds to hire an architectural designer to come in and show them different ways in which they can upgrade their building,” said Knight. “The program we had in the city of Revelstoke was one where we had a designer show a number of ways you can paint the building with different heritage colours that really jazz it up, to really brighten it.”
Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman recently brought up the idea, citing the facade-improvement plan implemented by Port Alberni in 2016 when it was considering a commercial revitalization tax exemption bylaw.
“We went out asking all of the business owners whether they had planned on making any improvements to their building," said City of Port Alberni development manager Pat Deakin, "and, if so, what amount of improvements were they looking at and what would be an incentive for them to do it.”
What resulted was a partnership between the municipality and Port Alberni Community Futures, with each contributing $25,000. Community Futures was so impressed with the program that it contributed another $100,000 and services for the facade design, according to Deakin.
Leishman said there is $25,000 available in the 2018 budget for special projects that could be dedicated to a facade-improvement program and discussions that began in 2016 to partner with Powell River Community Futures could be reopened.
There is the added advantage of smoothing out wrinkles between business owners and the city over the current process of requiring a permit to do upgrades, said Leishman.
“This is another way to get information, including on what is required for doing a facade improvement,” she said.
A lot of buildings need improvement, said Knight, but there are new stores and restaurants that are leading the way and doing it with their own money.
“Now what we want to try to do is assist any business in how to improve their facade,” said Knight.
A new look benefits more than just the individual business, according to Leishman.
“Business owners are already pretty progressive in wanting to improve the look of their business," said Leishman. "They see that the town is flourishing and that we're getting a lot more tourist activity and more potential new residents coming to Powell River and checking it out.”