Vacant buildings a major focus for downtown revitalization plan

By Greg Higgins
March 20, 2017 - 5:00pm
North Battleford is trying to occupy the vacant buildings downtown with businesses in an effort to make the core of the city a hot spot for people to visit and shop.
North Battleford is trying to occupy the vacant buildings downtown with businesses in an effort to make the core of the city a hot spot for people to visit and shop. Greg Higgins/battlefordsNOW Staff

Of all the available space in North Battleford, 20 per cent is in vacant buildings and with the majority of those buildings downtown, the city has developed a plan to occupy them.

Now that the Downtown Revitalization Plan has been approved by city council, administration can start implementing it. The end goal is to make downtown North Battleford a hotspot for business and tourism. In order to accomplish its goal, the city needs to attract businesses into the vacant buildings which requires more than just renting them out.

According to city manager Jim Puffalt, the project will begin with this spring’s construction on the “downtown T” which consists of 101st St. between 11th and 12th Ave. and 12th Ave. between 100th and 102nd St. The city will be paving roads, sidewalks and installing decorative street lights among other additions.

“We know spring construction is coming fairly soon, both the city investment and private investment,” Puffalt said. “We are also working with the downtown business district about incentives they want to talk about for buildings and enhancements. We are creating the atmosphere and the culture to make downtown the place where people want to come.”

Puffalt said he wasn’t sure exactly what kind of incentives will be offered. In the revitalization plan itself, it lists a “five to 10-year property tax abatement,” which is designed to off-set some of the costs of holding onto an experimental or risky project until the developer finds tenants or sells the unit. The plan also lists potential grants and below market loans for projects downtown.

Along with the construction, Puffalt said downtown needs an “anchor,” which he believes will come in the form of the new theatre being built.

“We worked hard to get an anchor downtown,” Puffalt said. “We needed a major business downtown that would draw people and in turn, drown businesses. We required the theatre be downtown and the banks were downtown. We are trying to encourage jobs and growth to happen downtown.”

Puffalt has a theory as to why businesses left downtown and why 20 per cent of the free space in the city is vacant buildings.

“It is kind of a long history,” Puffalt said. “Part of it is when malls started being built in the outer areas of the city, it started to draw the businesses that had historically been downtown out to the mall area. That happened in the late '70s, early '80s. So that started to bring vacancies to downtown and certainly not just in North Battleford,I think all over North America it started to be that way.”

The revitalization plan emphasized the need for more First Nation office and retail space to represent the population. According to the action plan, 42 per cent of all children in the city identify as Indigenous, which is a demographic the plan said “is becoming and will continue to be a significant player in the future of North Battleford.”

Puffalt said the city is already working with the Battlefords Agency of Tribal Chiefs to explore joint economic opportunities.

He added the city ultimately wants the owners of vacant buildings to get them back into commission again.

“Some of those buildings, honestly, are being held by non-local residents and they aren’t doing anything with them,” Puffalt said. “We have to find a way to get them to put the buildings back into production and enhance them. I mean, it is costing them money to have the building sitting vacant. It is all about us creating the atmosphere and culture for them, too.” 

Puffalt gave an example of the Craig’s building at the corner of 101st St. and 11th Ave., which has been vacant for at least a decade. According to the city manager, the owner is from out of town and has had it listed to sell for years but hasn’t done anything with it.

Puffalt said the city is always open to talk with people who are interested in buying buildings, especially downtown.

“We say lots of times that we are open for business,” he said. “If anyone had a great proposal we’d gladly sit down with them ... we are very committed to downtown. If anyone wants to do anything downtown, the same with everything, we are there to help them and find a way to make it happen.”

 

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On Twitter @realgreghiggins.

 

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