Downtowns are often the historical heart of communities across rural Ontario. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs’ (OMAFRA) Downtown Revitalization program offers a framework for improving the physical, economic, and social well-being of those traditional town centres and their historic places and spaces.
The Town of Gravenhurst launched their Downtown Revitalization initiative with the support of OMAFRA in 2011. The vision for this initiative was to create a Town that offers economic sustainability, diversity, and cultural or geographic uniqueness. Through investment and support from the Town and OMAFRA, Gravenhurst’s Downtown Revitalization initiative has generated a number of positive impacts for the Town over the last several years of implementing its action plan.
- The development of a Community Improvement Plan, which has supported new investments in building renovations and facades
- The opening of several new businesses “up and down the block” in the downtown core, as well as the relocation of businesses back to downtown
- A 4.1% reduction in the vacancy rate in downtown Gravenhurst since 2013
Cultural and built heritage remains a cornerstone of the Town’s vision for downtown, and has been a notable area of activity since the launch of the action plan in 2013. For example, the Town launched the Built Heritage Awards, while continuing to hold key events like Doors Open Gravenhurst and Porthole to the Past. The dedicated downtown revitalization efforts reached a major milestone recently, with the restoration of the clock atop the town’s 90 year-old post office, and the designation of the property as a historic site.
Built in 1926, the post office was a key historical gathering place and community hub in the town. Recognizing its significance as a ‘place’, the restoration of the post office and its clock tower had been a key element of the downtown revitalization plan. The modern improvements to the clock – paired with respect for its “historical integrity” in the restoration process – will ensure that the post office remains a key feature of the Downtown’s quality of place and identity.
Downtowns often reflect the qualities, characteristics, and activities that have historically defined the community. Unique quality of place plays an increasingly strong role in attracting residents, visitors, and businesses. Gravenhurst’s successes over the last several years have provided a good example of the importance of balancing initiatives across the four point approach to improve the town as a destination.