City council gave the green light Monday to provide grants of up to $450,000 to two “catalytic” projects.
Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke cast the deciding vote in favour of supporting a bid from McLean & Dickey Insurance for up to $250,000 in a tax deferral grant through the Downtown Tomorrow Community Improvement Program (DTCIP).
That money, essentially, would be used for facade improvements at their new home at 4 King Street, which they recently purchased. They plan to invest up to $1.5 million in improvements to the former Goodwill store.
McLean & Dickey, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, has grown from 13 employees in 2006 to more than 60 now and its lease at the Acutrac office building on West Street ends next year.
Council also agreed to extend a previously agreed-upon deadline so Sterling Group could still receive the $200,000 grant that was approved last year. Sterling Group is building a $30-million, 60-townhome community at 144 Elgin St., on Orillia’s waterfront. Only Coun. Jay Fallis voted against the extension.
Coun. Ralph Cipolla said he was in favour of providing both local enterprises the grant money.
“I think both contribute substantially to the tax base and to the economy that we really need to stimulate in 2021 and 2022,” Cipolla said at Monday’s virtual council meeting.
He said the townhouse project “enhances that whole area” while the improvements to the King Street building “will also be a catalyst for the development of the West Street corridor.”
Coun. Mason Ainsworth was not in favour of supporting the grant request from McLean and Dickey.
“We’re at a unique time in Orillia and the rest of world,” said Ainsworth, noting he supports the DTCIP initiative.
“If this was just a regular year, I would be fine with this,” he said. “But these are tough times … and we should keep as much money as we can in the city to put it toward something if it does arise.”
That sentiment was echoed by several councillors.
Some also thought McLean & Dickey should have to wait for the next intake process because they were asking, essentially, for money that had previously been committed to NABI, which had plans to turn the King Street facility into a health hub.
NABI opted instead to move into the former Steenhof building on the main street after Steenhof bought and renovated the former Royal Bank property.
Coun. Pat Hehn made an impassioned plea to support the initiatives - and local businesses.
“This council and ones before it promised to bring jobs to Orillia,” she said. “I believe we should really be behind them.”
Coun. Ted Emond agreed, noting support of such programs and seeing projects move forward can help “build confidence” within the community.
Clarke said he could see both sides, but noted there is “no upfront outlay of cash” from the city required.
He said now is the time “to assist in the recovery of the local economy” and stressed both projects “are fairly catalytic.”
The Mayor noted the former Dorr Oliver Long building on West Street South - now home to Accutrac and McLean & Dickey - is “bursting at the seams.”
Accutrac is growing and will soon occupy all the space within the building. McLean & Dickey, also expanding, will have a new home in a long-empty building it will rejuvenate.
“That’s a pretty darn good scenario,” said Clarke, noting the projects will also increase tax assessment for years to come.
“There is no up-front outlay of cash, so I’m quite supportive of both.”
Clarke supported the McLean & Dickey grant along with councillors David Campbell, Cipolla, Hehn and Emond. Coun. Tim Lauer, Rob Kloostra, Jay Fallis and Ainsworth voted against it.
The McLean & Dickey support is a conditional tax increment grant for 70% of the increased tax assessment at 4 King St. to a maximum value of $250,000 for a term not exceeding five years from the date of project completion.
For Sterling Group, the $200,000 is a development charge grant now extended to June 2022.
In a detailed report to council, Sterling Group said the project has been delayed due to “onerous” and lengthy wait times for provincial approvals of various stages of site work on the former scrapyard.
Click here to read more about their plan and the issues they have encountered during the process.