Maple Ridge’s downtown investment program has attracted $33 million worth of construction to the community. It’s time Squamish took a page out of their book, Coun. Patricia Heintzman says.
In late 2010, Maple Ridge’s council approved an incentive program that gives developers and businesses breaks for specific work in the downtown core. Two years later, the municipality is currently ranked the fifth in per-capita investment in Canada.
The program has attracted 36 projects into Maple Ridge’s boundaries, said Sandy Blue, Maple Ridge’s manager of strategic economic initiatives. The stimulus choices cover four-square blocks of the city centre and include priority processing, reduced parking requirements, fee reductions and partnering options to help offset front-end development charges.
“It is also attracting development outside of the town’s centre,” Blue said, noting $80 million worth of projects are currently in the development approval process and the initiative has received attention from around the world.
On June 19, the District of Squamish council passed Heintzman’s motion that it attend a workshop for brainstorming ways to implement a similar program.
“For me it has been a long time coming,” she said.
Council needs to establish the objectives it wants to meet — anything from job creation or filling vacant lots — and build its incentives to fit those goals, Heintzman said. The incentives can be flexible, she noted, adding that council can change focus once objectives are met.
“I think it is going to take a bit of a visioning session for council,” Heintzman said.
Most of the district’s reports speak of revitalizing downtown, so it seems the logical place to start, Heintzman said. That doesn’t mean the program can’t expand.
“In the future, it’s not to say we might not do [the incentives] in another area down the road,” she said.
Whether or not the Squamish oceanfront development goes ahead, council has made revitalizing the downtown core a priority, Heintzman said, noting that council could decide to include those lands.
Getting the program’s information out to the public is a big part of the agenda, she said.
“The messaging is that we want people to come invest,” Heintzman said.
Council is scheduled to hold a downtown incentives workshop in July. A draft must be completed for October if council aims to have a bylaw in place for 2013.