Downtown Vitalization – What do Candidates think?

Vitalization of Cobourg’s Downtown has been a project since before the last election.  In 2014 a Billboard was erected at the corner of Division and King that outlined plans into the future.  Although there has been a lot of activity, the issue is still the subject of advisory committees like the Downtown Coalition Advisory Committee as well as the Downtown Business Improvement Area (DBIA) committee (composed of downtown merchants).  At one point, the town even issued a newsletter providing progress reports (see Link below).  More recently, the Community Improvement Program (CIP) has been providing money to applicants to spruce up their buildings.  It’s not clear exactly what Council can do to help since it’s not in the business of operating stores or other businesses that would be on King Street or nearby.

Start Here Announcement
Start Here Announcement

One of the problems is that stores stay vacant for quite a while despite efforts to find tenants by both Real Estate Agents and the Town’s Economic Development Department.  In the meantime, the vacant stores can be an eyesore.  One initiative has been to make the windows available for displays of arts and while that has been successful, a recent initiative has been to add “wraps” to the windows of vacant stores.   At right is a photo of the unveiling of one in conjunction with the “Start Here” Downtown marketing campaign.

Note that in the responses below, three have been abbreviated [as noted] – no text has been edited, just a few sentences have been omitted.


John Henderson (acclaimed)

I believe that the Downtown core vitalization is critical to our overall success. Council needs to continue the Community Improvement Plan (with its stackable grants and loans). In 2018, six out of seven applications were approved where Council approved $150 000 and in return the return on investment was just under one million dollars. Northumberland County has determined that rebates for the second-third stories will no longer exist and this should help to spur on new development for residential-commercial-business development. Reviewing our current Heritage Incentives will certainly assist us in identifying and aligning with new Fire Code and Ontario Building Code regulations. Bringing Wi-Fi and optic fibre connectivity would also enhance our service delivery. Looking at our Town By-Laws to encourage more citizens moving along the King Street promenade and promote the “feel of Europe-pedestrian-friendly atmosphere needs to be explored, especially during the summer months. [Abbreviated]

Deputy Mayor

Randy Curtis Vitalization should continue to aid in the improvement of our downtown. It will bring people to live, work and shop in the downtown core and will encourage the development of the whole community.
Suzanne Séguin

Measure the return on investment of the Community Improvement Plan (CIP) and Start Here Campaign, determine the benefits of the Downtown Coalition, bring the building owners and store owners together for a strategic planning session led by a downtown expert.


Nicole Beatty

A great deal of time, effort and investment has been put into revitalizing Cobourg’s downtown.  We are seeing the benefits of the community improvement plan and funds and the launch of the recent “Start Here” campaign is a strong marketing initiative to attract new businesses, services and entrepreneurs to the area.  I believe that the next chapter of vitalization needs to focus on mixed-use buildings, sustaining the heritage of the spaces and facades and investing in viable strategies and programs to occupy empty storefronts.  We need to support our existing main street merchants by reviewing by-laws that prevent street front patios and the establishment of venues and spaces that attract patrons and visitors to create a vibrant social scene.  Vitalization also needs to address recreational and cultural opportunities and attractions as well as a pathway that connects our downtown precinct with the beach district.  For me, any and all next steps in vitalization need to demonstrate how we are attracting new business investment and new downtown amenities.

Aaron Burchat

I think we are currently on the right track with regards to downtown vitalization, and the Community Improvement Plan. We have seen buildings and stores that previously looked rundown, become refreshed, and while its not fully there yet, the ones that have taken part in the CIP have done a great job at making the downtown look more presentable.

I support continuing forward with the CIP, and further encourage building owners to utilize the CIP process to turn vacant apartments above the stores into suitable, and desirable, living spaces, to increase the amount of people who live in the downtown core.

The Start Here program kicked off this year with window wraps on two vacant stores, showcasing what the store potential could be. It also helps to make the storefront look a little more appealing to people passing by, rather than a dirty window and empty store staring back. [Abbreviated]

Adam Bureau

Vitalization is very important and through partnerships and working with committees like the DBIA and the Coalition Board, I would like to see the expansion of the “START HERE” campaign. So far, we have received positive feed back about this campaign and new stores will be opening because of this initiative, so lets keep the momentum going!

Emily Chorley

We should learn from other towns that have successfully vitalized their downtown cores, such as Warkworth and Port Hope. We should also review the effectiveness of the Community Improvement Program and proactively uphold existing property standards.

Brian Darling I am of the opinion that our Community Improvement Plan is showing good results and we should continue with the program. The metrics are in place to evaluate the success of the program.  I would be especially supportive of development of the upper floors.
Karl Vom Dorff The 2014 plan needs to be updated with new ideas. One idea would be to produce a comprehensive SEO (search engine optimization) marketing plan, worked on monthly, to attain top search engine results using blanket keywords to attract business and investment into Cobourg’s core. SEO should not be underestimated; it’s a very powerful marketing tool.
Travis Hoover I would like to see a collaborative meeting of Building owners, business owners and economic Development officials get together to establish best options for a plan.   I am open to any beneficial ideas/concepts that benefit any current business or any businesses that may want to locate to Cobourg. I think it’s incumbent on all councillors to be open to any plans/ideas that benefit our business community, which in turn benefits employment opportunities (which in turn, of course, benefits the entire community
Miriam Mutton

I believe we need ‘Made in Cobourg’ solutions because our downtown is unique to our community.  Good work is already underway, led by the downtown coalition committee and DBIA, including learning from analysis of results from early initiatives and pilot projects.

Johnny Percolides Downtown is obviously a complex issue, giving out gifts (tax payer’s money) to building owners to renovate their roof/windows is not the way in my opinion. My plan has been all along that we need more entertainment downtown, a pedestrian friendly section in the downtown area, with quality entertainment. Allowing more outdoor patios for cafes and restaurants would be a good start. Our neighbouring towns, Port Hope and New Castle have been allowing business owners to take over the parking spots in front of their business for patios, what a great idea. The downtown building owners will renovate their own buildings when people start coming downtown. We don’t need to pay them to do it, Council’s job is to create the positive environment downtown with zoning and regulations that allow for the building owners to do it themselves. [Abbreviated]

Note: Candidates listed in last name alphabetical order.

The next question to be answered is Should Holdco finances be made public?


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Susan White
5 years ago

First off… bravo to Nicole and Johnny who were the only two who actually answered the question without using back slapping platitudes.

Second… why isn’t anyone questioning the reason for the empty store fronts… why are the landlords not held to a greater degree of questioning… there are so many surrounding downtowns that are full and thriving ( Warkworth and port hope)… so I don’t buy the BS that there are no good tenants.

I have had at least 5 seperate business owners comment to me over the last year that they wanted to set up in downtown but either couldn’t find a suitable space ( that didn’t need $$$$$ in repair/renovation) and also heard that a number of landlords just wont cooperate… and there goes the age old question… again do landlords make more by keeping their buildings empty.

I applaud any attempt to help downtown Cobourg but I think we are not looking at the source of the problem… landlords… why aren’t your buildings filled?

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Susan White
5 years ago

You asked “do landlords make more by keeping their buildings empty”. Forget making MORE. How can a landlord makes ANYTHING if her building is empty?

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Susan W
5 years ago

Yes, the county eliminated the property tax relief for vacant buildings. So?

You implied that keeping a building vacant might be more profitable than renting/leasing. The owner of a vacant building still pays property taxes. The owner’s capital is still tied up in a vacant building yet she receives no income. How could that be more profitable than renting the building? The only way is if the reduction in property tax due to being vacant exceeds the rent.

Consider that in Cobourg the 2018 property taxes for a commercial building are about 3.3346% of the assessed value and the taxes were about 2.3342% prior to the changes to reduce the vacancy rebate. Assuming a building is valued at $250K that means that the property taxes when rented would be $8,367 if rented or $5,836 if vacant. Thus it would be preferable to rent if the rent is more than about $211/month. Can you rent downtown space for $211/month?

Mrs. Anonymous
Reply to  Ken Strauss
5 years ago

Rent is only one aspect. The other is the asset appreciation. I suppose some are playing the long game and looking for a capital gain.

Others use real estate as a form of bank for their money (a la Vancouver/Toronto),

And while I have no idea if this is an issue in Cobourg, it facilitates money laundering (as evidenced lately in Vancouver).

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Mrs. Anonymous
5 years ago

Probably most are playing the asset appreciation waiting game although that is currently working poorly with downtown Cobourg commercial properties. Rent is rather like dividends which also pay you while you wait and that is never a bad thing. Besides you can possibly defer taxes by using the building’s CCA to offset some of the rental income.

Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

“Struggling high streets must be thrown a “lifeline”, with reforms to business rates, better parking in town centres and assurances over continued access to cash and banking services, a leading employers’ group has warned.” London Times
Our King Street’s problems are far from unique.
But it’s marvelous to see that our candidates not only agree on tourism, but also on the downtown improvement.
Could be sort of an ‘eeny, meeny, miny. moe’ election.

Mrs. Anonymous
5 years ago

I’m with Johnny on this one in regards to the CIP, only I would take it one step further. Instead of giving taxpayer money to private business as we currently do, or eliminate it as Johnny suggests, why don’t we institute a vacancy tax instead. You want to leave your building empty? Go for it, but you will have to pay for the privilege.

Cobourg Person
5 years ago

To summarize, the Town of Cobourg has the following:

1. Downtown Coalition Advisory Committee;
2. Downtown Business Improvement Area Committee;
3. Community Improvement Program;
4. An Economic Development Department.

As a result of the above, has any committee/department identified the issue as to why stores stay vacant? The impression is that a significant amount of time, effort, and money has gone into these committees and the cause of the issue has not been identified.

Reply to  Cobourg Person
5 years ago

And if the cause is that far too few people live/work/travel downtown, what’s the cure?

manfred s
Reply to  ben
5 years ago

for starters, transfer as many services and businesses considered to be “essential” (ie- gov’t offices for one) to the downtown and provide sufficient parking to handle the additional demand. (move the Police to the outskirts and use that building for gov’t offices) With that additional parking (multi-level facility) they could relax the ‘parking provisions’ required to open upper level apartments in the core. That could provide enough stimulus eventually to reacquire a strong grocery and hardware supply.

manfred s
Reply to  Cobourg Person
5 years ago

as I’ve said before, I don’t believe there’s a “problem” that needs solving, rather we should look at it as an opportunity to re-invent our town on the whole, considering all areas as part of one entity and what we can do to make the various parts work as part of the whole. It’s not just the downtown that we need to upscale and make interesting and desireable. A healthy and vibrant outskirts can have the effect of bringing strength to the inner core if it’s done with ‘that objective’ in mind from the beginning.

Susan W
Reply to  Cobourg Person
5 years ago

Has anyone questioned the landlords?

manfred s
Reply to  Susan W
5 years ago

to what end, Susan? Your comment implies that there is some kind of onus on the property owners to do something, that they bear some sort of responsibility for owning property downtown, and that’s just not the case. If someone buys a farm there’s no responsibility or requirement to operate it as a farm. How many farms have been bought up surrounding existing municipalities and turned into suburban developments? Buying or owning a downtown property is also not an agreement to do anything specific with it. We are all free to choose our own investment vehicles and suggesting that downtown properties have a set of responsibilities attached is flawed thinking. Renters actually determine the state of the downtown, not the property owners and renters know if a location is worth renting to earn a return on their investment. If they don’t see a potential return, it’s not the responsibility of the property owner to do something about it. Questioning the property owners is a non-starter and completely pointless.

manfred s
Reply to  Cobourg Person
5 years ago

vacancies are a not-so-subtle statement about the potential to earn a return on investment, about the ability to operate a profitable business in that area. If an entrepreneur sees such potential they usually act to take advantage of it, assuming of course that the return is sufficient enough to validate the inherent risks. Numerous vacancies simply imply the absence of sufficient and sustainable business levels. That does not take a degree, years of ‘business development experience’ or a slew of volunteer committees to figure out. Feet on the street is the key factor in providing sufficient and sustainable business levels to attract those entrepreneurs and nothing much else will do the job. Solve that challenge and the rest will quickly fall into place, and without handouts of public money to boot.