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City approves funding for main street program

If the Estevan and District Board of Tourism, Trade and Commerce's bid is successful, the city's downtown core could undergo a major facelift.

If the Estevan and District Board of Tourism, Trade and Commerce's bid is successful, the city's downtown core could undergo a major facelift.

The TTC was given the green light from city council to submit a bid for the main street revitalization program that was launched by the provincial government on April 13. The government also issued a request for proposals on that date and will select four demonstration communities and will provide matching funding for the refurbishing of downtown commercial areas.
According to a government press release, eligibility will be determined on the basis of community capacity, community support, downtown viability and existing heritage buildings. For the selected communities, matching funding for three years for capital expenses and administrative costs will be provided.

Claire Robson of the TTC was before council at the May 16 to seek their support and said the application process is a thorough one.

"It asks for a lot of support and to have a lot of funding already in place," said Robson who added the selected communities will have access to an architect who will meet individually with downtown business owners. "There are building requirements and we meet all of them because we do have quite a historic downtown."

Robson said the TTC has chosen three blocks of Fourth Street - from 13th Avenue to Souris Avenue - for the main street program.

"I was told by the ministry to make sure you keep the area small so that the improvements you do see, show a lot. Also, there are a number of buildings - 40 years and older. I spoke with someone (with the province) and they loved exactly how it setup and that the buildings are smaller so more money will go a longer way."

The main street program has proven successful in a number of communities, Robson noted. At the council meeting she provided examples from Camrose, Alberta which recently underwent a revitalization program that significantly improved that city's downtown area.

"(They did) something as simple as a signage project or an awning project," Robson said. "Basically there was just an ownership taken by the businesses and by the residents of the community. It doesn't have to be that expensive, it can be pressure washed bricks, a new sign, a nice little awning that kind of fits."

The TTC proposal, which Robson said is open to change, would provide participating business owners with a grant that covers 15 per cent of construction costs up to $50,000. She added a meeting was held earlier on the 16th with local business owners and those in attendance signed a piece of paper specifying how much money they would like to invest.

"A lot of them, $10,000 to $15,000 or more and I have spoken with numerous property owners from Vancouver who were jumping at the idea. I have spoken with about 28 businesses and 16 have said they are absolutely on board and are excited," Robson said.

For the proposal to move forward, Robson said the TTC needs a full commitment from council for the three years the project runs. That includes a cash contribution of $50,000 each year. The City must also appoint a municipal official to represent them on the committee.

"I feel this is such a good time for Estevan to move forward with a project like this," Robson said.
"The businesses are really excited. I think the idea that there is that architect there really gets them (saying) 'yes, this is a project we'd like to do.' The economy is doing well so they have got the money to do it now."

The members of council clearly shared Robson's sentiments. Councillor Roy Ludwig called program a "great opportunity to revitalize the downtown core and I hope we take it."

Councillor Lynn Chipley added with the recent announcement that the clean coal project at Boundary Dam is moving forward the eyes of the world will be on Estevan and as such, the timing is perfect for a project like this.

"To me this is a no-brainer."

Council then made the quick decision to unanimously pass a motion agreeing to support the proposal and put up the requested $50,000 for each year.

"People don't always talk us into spending money that fast," chuckled Mayor Gary St. Onge.