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Improving downtown facades in Tillsonburg

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Through the Downtown Façade Improvement Program and partnership with the Tillsonburg BIA, grants are now available from the Town of Tillsonburg for façade improvements.

First applications are due on Tuesday, Sept. 23. Applications are available at www.tillsonburg.ca or at the Tillsonburg Customer Service centre at 10 Lisgar Ave.

The façade improvement program has been in the works for the past three years, said BIA’s John Kirkland.

“The emphasis was to encourage land owners and/or renters to revamp their facades to be more Victorian Heritage theme – and enhancing the downtown.

“We’ve already got a beautiful downtown to start with, we just want to enhance it more.”

The new façade improvement grant program will provide opportunities in the form of non-repayable financial contributions, which will be provided by the town to owners or qualified tenants of buildings within the Downtown Tillsonburg BIA (also known as the CC zone). Grants will be awarded up to $10,000, and are subject to approval of the façade improvement grant committee, which will assess all applications based on individual merit.

“For the past two years we’ve partnered with the Town Council, and each of us have contributed $25,000 per year,” said Kirkland. “They matched our funds, building the fund to $100,000.”

The downtown as a whole should benefit from this program which both confirms and maintains consistency in the design of existing buildings. The end result is expected to be an improvement of the character of the downtown.

The Victorian Heritage design was chosen, he said, based on the history of Tillsonburg.

“You look up and down the main street and you see that Victorian look right now. The blocks have a good portion of that already in the infrastructure. We call it ‘the Tillson brick’ with the curved windows, etc. It just made sense to continue with that theme since it’s already established.”

To assist BIA property owners, the Tillsonburg BIA recently contracted urban designer Juri Berzins. Each applicant can receive a free consultation.

“He’s an urban design planner,” said Kirkland, “and he’s contracted for about six months. Up to 40 facades. He does the designs based on the criteria in the urban design study, which was completed by the county and town.”

Berzins will work closely with the owner to provide a detailed design concept and guidelines for each façade improvement project. These guidelines are in accordance with the Town of Tillsonburg’s Central Area Design Study guidelines.

Upon applying for a grant, each property owner is responsible for seeking out qualified contractors to carry out the work.

“We are now accepting applications,” said Kirkland. “It’s up to $10,000 in grant money… it’s the ‘carrot,’ not the ‘stick.’ In other words, we’re encouraging owners – not saying they have to – but encouraging them to use the heritage theme, and to get the funding, this is what they have to do.

“We’ve established a subcommittee to rate each of the applications. This year we hope to give away 8-12 participants in the program some money to encourage them. We’re really excited about what the town’s going to look like when we use the program. We hope that town council will continue to partner with us and continue for years and years as we go… as long as there’s demand for it.”

The program officially launched at the BIA’s Annual General Meeting, and as of this week, 23 interested tenants/owners have contacted them about it.

Seven formal applications have been submitted, but they won’t be formally reviewed until after the Sept. 3 deadline.

“When we close it off, we’ll rate each application on its merit and we will then announce who’s getting the money.”

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