You can sense it. There’s a definite air of renewal, a shift in perception and a new dynamism in Downtown Sudbury. Well-intentioned efforts of just a few years ago to overcome downtown liabilities are now being replaced by a desire to take advantage of emergent opportunities.
A point of critical mass has been achieved by the combined and persistent efforts of the merchant-supported Business Improvement Area and the Downtown Village Development Corporation, a non-profit voluntary organization, in creating partnerships, awareness and relentless advocacy.
The Downtown Master Plan is calling for the creation of 5,000 new and rehab living units in the downtown, an ambitious goal that will require concrete action from all stakeholders.
Generation X-ers on the cutting edge of education and technology, downtown workers, empty-nesters bored with the suburbs, seniors and students are all looking for a stimulating, creative environment. And our importance as a mining centre has generated an emerging corporate presence which includes international engineering companies – offices filled with young, talented engineers and workers also seeking convenient places to live, work and play.
As a residential neighbourhood, the downtown offers a unique lifestyle, unavailable in any other area of our city. Where else, for instance, can you access a variety of churches, doctors’ offices, health services and pharmacies, cafes and restaurants, a YMCA fitness and seniors centre, all within a healthy walking distance? Add to this a library, spas, upscale shopping experiences, entertainment, art shows, educational facilities, music concerts and a built-in, diverse community!
A long-lingering negative perception, unfortunately shared by lenders, is just one of the reasons developers have been reluctant to invest in residential construction and rehab in the past but some changes by bold investors have created a whole new assessment of the demand for downtown living. The rehabilitation of second-floor spaces into luxury apartments, development of student housing and the introduction of condo and loft developments are brave starts.
“But to create the downtown that is the pride of its city requires a visionary kick-start. That’s why cities across North America have created downtown housing funds as a simple but creative way to meet the strong demand for market-rate housing.”
But to create the downtown that is the pride of its city requires a visionary kick-start. That’s why cities across North America have created downtown housing funds as a simple but creative way to meet the strong demand for market-rate housing. This is how they generally work: the city sets up a fund for grants and/or loans at attractive lending terms, or alternately, tax exemptions for a limited period of time. These programs are generally administered by a private non-profit downtown development corporation such as DVDC that works closely with private sector investors to promote and facilitate their investment. It’s a simple, easy concept that works and one that returns much needed tax dollars to city coffers through private sector investment that generates significant job creation and increased downtown assessments and tax revenues.
Cities who have implemented such programs have been astounded by the demand for downtown housing once offered, and continue to replenish their fund on a yearly basis.
In London, Ontario, for example, the Current Value Assessment for their downtown has increased from $569 million in 2002 to an astounding $902 million in 2012, all due to such downtown development incentives.
Instead of indulging our nostalgia for a downtown of the 50’s, we can create a fresh, modern-day version of its original role as a marketplace, a place of ideas and culture, an intellectual and creative centre, a place to meet, greet and interact, to attract investors and visitors, a place that reflects our city’s collective identity and pride, all the while contributing virtually millions of dollars each year to our tax base.
Every great city has a great downtown. We are a dynamic city full of dynamic people.
This is a goal for our city worth pursuing and worth investing in.