Council passed a motion during a special meeting here Monday to approve $1.5 million for the redevelopment of the building, subject to funding support from the province, federal government and the private sector.
“This project would see the former town hall building on Ratchford Street repurposed for use as a business community innovation centre that would serve several purposes in the community,” the town’s director of economic development Roger MacIsaac said. “The request to repurpose this facility is driven by the need in the community that a community and innovation centre could provide.”
MacIsaac said the centre would focus on providing space and technology to support development initiatives for existing business provide support to partners to host activities and events for new business, provide space for local industry to provide skill development activities for employees and support community groups that struggle to find venues to use for their events.
It would also act as a community networking hub that would provide space and resources for either business throughout the county or visitors to the community. It would also act as a conference facility supporting both business and community needs.
The town’s share of the funding would be $524,921 and the project is subject to the approval of funding in the amount of $100,000 from the province, $750,000 through the ACOA Innovative Communities Fund and $150,000 in private sector fundraising.
The town is preparing funding applications to both the provincial and federal governments and Mayor Robert Small said the town’s motion is to show both levels of government that it’s committed to the project.
The former town hall has been vacant since October 2012 when the town moved its offices to the Dominion Public Building on Victoria Street. It had been proposed as the home of the Amherst Police Department, but consultants said it would be cheaper to build a new building than to retrofit an existing building.
There were some suggestions prior to the 2012 municipal election that it could be used as an arts centre, or even home for the library should the town decide to use the existing Four Fathers Memorial Library building as the police department.
Coun. Terry Rhindress expressed concern the town is making a commitment without having an operational plan in place for the business centre. Both the mayor and MacIsaac said the town is not committing the money without support from the other levels of government, while the operational plan will be worked on while the applications make their way to government.
Deputy Mayor George Baker said he supports the proposal because it will put Amherst on the map.
“We have to step up to the plate as a town to attract more business to our community instead of sitting on our hands hoping someone else will do it for us,” Baker said.