The idea of Downtown Vitalization for Cobourg first started in 2011 with the first plan produced July 2013. It was intended to make Cobourg’s Downtown more vibrant and attractive with fewer closed stores. The idea was that an upgrade of its appearance would increase the attractiveness of Downtown to both businesses and residents. Over time, responsibility for the project moved from the Economic Development Advisory Committee to the Cobourg Downtown Coalition Advisory Committee (DCAC) and at the next Committee of the Whole Meeting on February 19, the DCAC will issue their “Final Report”. Although the report is labelled “Final”, they recommend that the committee be “re-constituted by the Town for at least another four years”. The report is a comprehensive review of accomplishments and sets out the current status of the project.
It’s quite long – 45 pages; if you want to read the whole thing, you can download from a link provided below. The DCAC also provided an update in October 2016.
- A Downtown Master Plan has been created (Downtown Master Plan – Final Approval – 14 Feb 2016)
- Community Improvement Plan (and its implementation). (Report on Council being asked to approve it – 12 March 2016).
- Support for Victoria Square Phase IV – Final Victoria Square Design – 28 April 2017. This is on hold pending obtaining grants from the Provincial and Federal Governments.
- Business attraction marketing plan – Start Here – advertising expected to be completed March 2019. (Report with details here – 27 June 2018)
- Henley Arcade has been re-furbished, including a new mural.
- Vehicle wayfinding signs for Downtown have been installed
- Five vacant stores on King St. mounted displays of art in empty windows in 2018.
- An initial set of performance measures has been established and accurate data have been compiled for the last four years.
- A Strategic plan has been created which provides a set of Goals for the next 5-10 years.
- Engaging property owners and convincing them that they have a role to play in the success of Downtown.
- It has been difficult to engage real estate brokers and agents in vitalization.
- The communications effort was not consistent, resulting in sporadic updates. The web site has been slow to update. (Go to it here)
The Coalition is committed to measuring success (or otherwise) as seen in their interim report in October 2016 (see link above in second paragraph). One initiative has been to install pedestrian counters to see how traffic changes with the season and with Town Events. For example, the graph above/right shows how Rib-Fest had no impact on Downtown pedestrian traffic in 2017.
One early idea was the very expensive CIVIC plan. It would have required a senior manager and millions of dollars of investment by the Town to provide loans to businesses wanting to upgrade their buildings. It was put on hold pending looking at what could be done with the CIP; the latest thought is that the CIVIC program will now die.
The CIP has been successful since it has a leverage of 4:1 – that is, building owners spend 4 times as much on their building upgrades as the amount loaned or granted by the Town. The amounts in the Town’s budget in 2017 and 2018 (and planned for 2019) were $150K although less than this was disbursed.
Another major study that went nowhere was the Tourism Assets Study. The consultants for this study were asked to identify which Town owned assets could be best used to promote Tourism. The results were kept under wraps for quite a while and when finally released it had the conclusion that “the best investment opportunity was a boutique waterfront inn and restaurant located on the current Victoria Park Campground site. Council accepted the report for information purposes in August 2015 and the results were subsequently incorporated into the Waterfront Needs Assessment.”
The report recommends some changes in the re-constituted Downtown Coalition Advisory Committee (DCAC):
- The DCAC should have representation from Tourism.
- The DCAC should regularly re-examine the Downtown Master Plan and recommend actions for Town implementation. The same should be done for the Cultural Master Plan once Council accepts it.
- A concentrated effort should be made by the Town to find funding for Victoria Square development. 4. The Community Improvement program (CIP) program should continue to be funded by the Town at the current level or increased as determined by future uptake of the program. Measures should be devised and data collected to ascertain the impact of the CIP program on Downtown Prosperity and Livability.
- The CIP application evaluation criteria should continue to be tuned and revised by DCAC. As well, DCAC should consider implementation of methods to improve the efficiency of CIP program administration.
- The DCAC should look for innovative ways to engage and motivate Downtown property owners regarding the maintenance and rejuvenation of their buildings.
- Marketing of the Downtown to suitable prospective businesses is crucial and should be systematically planned and conducted.
- To complement the current business attraction program, a customer attraction program for local residents should be prepared and implemented by the Town, supported by DCAC.
- Renewed effort should be made by DCAC to engage the real estate community as partners.
- The current set of measures should be updated yearly and new valid measures, especially measures of vitalization outcome, should be incorporated.
- The Residents Survey should be repeated to provide an update on residents’ perceptions and opinions about Downtown.
- A communications plan should be developed by DCAC to regularly update the public on its initiatives. In particular, the successful initiatives should be celebrated. The web page should be kept current.