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Thunder Bay developing grant program for heritage properties

Proposed grant program would subsidize repair work for owners of designated heritage properties.
Lakehead University faculty of law
The former Port Arthur Collegiate Institute building, now home to the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, is among 26 Thunder Bay properties with an official heritage designation. (Lakehead University)

THUNDER BAY — Owners of designated heritage properties in Thunder Bay could soon have a helping hand in repairing and restoring historic features.

The City of Thunder Bay is developing a heritage grant program that would subsidize the cost of work that helps maintain buildings and other features identified as historically or architecturally significant.

Details of the program will be drafted in the coming months, and approved by city council along with a suggested $50,000 budget in late 2022 and early 2023.

Coun. Peng You questioned whether that amount would be enough to accomplish the program’s goals during discussion at city hall Monday.

The total was selected as a rough mid-point of what other communities (Kingston, Sault Ste. Marie, Oakville) have budgeted for similar programs, staff said.

The city first considered exploring tax incentives for heritage properties, an approach supported under the Ontario Heritage Act.

However, staff concluded a grant program would be simpler to administer and bring more benefits.

Municipalities can offer designated heritage property owners discounts of 10 to 40 per cent on the municipal and education portion of their property taxes, with the province picking up the tab for the lost education portion.

The Act requires municipalities to keep a register of heritage properties in order to promote the preservation of places with architectural, historical, or cultural significance.

Thunder Bay’s register includes 26 formally designated heritage properties, as well as 49 listed heritage properties, and the Waverley Park heritage conservation district, which includes 70 properties centred around the north side park.

The tax incentive programs require formal agreements, annual inspections, and other monitoring, city staff concluded in a report.

A tax incentive also would not benefit six local churches designated heritage properties, as they are tax-exempt, staff noted.

The grant program would assist owners of designated sites with the costs of repair or restoration projects that focus on heritage attributes.

Several other municipalities offer heritage grant programs covering up to half the cost for eligible work. The maximum per-grant amount ranged from $3,000 in Sault Ste. Marie to $15,000 in Oakville.

The city previously offered a heritage tax relief program between 2006 and 2008, but staff reported poor uptake led to its cancellation. That could have been because it required preservation agreements registered on the property’s title, and because it may not have been well promoted, staff said.

The city was prompted to reconsider the idea after the owner of a heritage property contacted the Heritage Advisory Committee last year inquiring about financial assistance programs.

On Monday, council voted unanimously to direct staff to develop the heritage grant program, and to include $50,000 in the proposed 2023 budget to fund it.

However, it will be up to the next council, elected in the Oct. 24 municipal election, to give the program final approval in December, and to vote next year on whether to include those funds in the budget.

— TBNewswatch