Cornwall Becoming a Model for Downtown Revitalization

By Kevin Lajoie
October 18, 2012

Dana McLean - City of CornwallCornwall Ontario - The revitalization of Cornwall’s urban core is in full swing, and the signs of renewal are hard to miss.

In the Heart of the City, dozens of buildings have been restored and upgraded. Numerous business owners have re-invested in their properties, giving their business a fresh new look in the process. They’ve been joined by a growing number of entrepreneurs who’ve decided to purchase their own property or rent a space and turn it into something new.

Michael Galvin and Jeff Allaire are two such entrepreneurs. They recently relocated their computer retail business, Computer Sense, to a newly-renovated building that they purchased in the Le Village business district. With new residential development occurring in the East end of the City, including new lofts planned for the Cotton Mills district next door, Mr. Galvin believes they are right in the middle of Cornwall’s next big development area. The lure of owning their own property was also a big factor in the decision to relocate.

“We were at a point where it made more sense to pay ourselves rather than pay someone else (for rent),” Mr. Galvin said.

A few short blocks away, Shawn Maloney has also reinvested in his business, a Ford dealership that has been a Cornwall landmark for over 50 years.

“Reinvesting where our customers live and work is makes good business sense” notes Shawn Maloney, dealer principle at Miller Hughes Ford Lincoln.

Both Mr. Galvin and Mr. Maloney received assistance through the City of Cornwall’s Heart of the City Community Improvement Plan (CIP).

The Heart of the City CIP is designed to assist property owners to improve their properties by offering financial incentives such as grants and interest-free building restoration loans. Community Improvement Plans are seen as a key tool to stimulate downtown revitalization efforts, and many municipalities have established such plans. However, few have been as successful as Cornwall’s.

Since 2006, over 150 projects in Cornwall have been approved through the Heart of the City CIP.  All told, approximately $3.1 million in CIP assistance has been approved, generating an estimated $13 million in private sector investment in Cornwall’s urban core. The assistance offered by the City through the CIP comes from a special reserve fund dedicated to Downtown revitalization efforts, thereby avoiding a direct impact on the property tax base.

Beyond the hard numbers, there are other measurements of success – new businesses and jobs being created and supported, more traffic and activity in the Downtown and Le Village areas and a more appealing and inviting atmosphere for workers, residents and visitors to enjoy.

“The program is working. It’s bringing people to the Downtown and Le Village areas that weren’t there before,” said Dana McLean, Planning Programs Administrator.

Ms. McLean said the CIP is having spill-off effects throughout the two historic commercial areas. Often, she receives calls from business owners after a neighbouring property has tapped into the CIP to help complete some upgrades.

“It rolls off down the street to others,” said Ms. McLean, who oversees the CIP and assists interested business owners in filling out the necessary paperwork.

In both the Downtown and Le Village areas, the revitalization effort isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. A number of big projects have been recently completed or are currently underway, including:

  • The introduction of new condominium lofts in the Cotton Mill district, with new expansions expected to break ground this fall.
  • Major redevelopment of two downtown car dealerships, Cornwall Volkswagen and Miller Hughes Ford Lincoln, totalling over $1.5 million
  • Redevelopment of several downtown restaurants including the Dish Real Foods and the newly reopened Truffles Burger Bar.
  • The former Gavel’s Pub on Second Street West – once part of the historic Cornwallis Hotel property – has undergone a major facelift and is now home to law offices
  • Pommier Jewellers has created a beautifully-landscaped courtyard at the corner of Pitt and Second, which will be used as a venue for special events on evenings and weekends.
  • A new two-storey commercial building has been built on Montreal Road· The former OLCO gas station at the northwest corner of Montreal Road and Belmont Street has been demolished to make way for future redevelopment.
  • A renewal of the historic St. John’s Church on Second Street to celebrate its 200 year anniversary
  • A $1 million renovation of the Your Credit Union building on Second Street
  • Several buildings in the Downtown core have undergone makeovers, including  a new dentist office at the corner of Sydney and Second, the McLennan Building on Pitt, and the historic Snetsingers building on Pitt

“The health of a community’s urban core is often looked at as an indicator of a community’s overall health, and we’re in a pretty healthy state,” said Mayor Bob Kilger. “The City will continue to support the revitalization of our commercial areas wherever possible. Not only does it generate new jobs and activity, but it also helps to build a sense of pride among our residents. As we have seen over the last several years, it’s an investment that pays huge dividends.”

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Category: Business