AMHERST, N.S. – Rebecca Taylor believes Amherst is already a beautiful community.
As the town’s business development officer, she is joining forces with the Amherst and Area Chamber of Commerce to introduce the Gritty to Pretty program that will enable businesses to make improvements to their facades with the assistance of funding from the provincial Municipal Affairs Department.
“The focus of the program is on beautification in order to enhance tourism,” Taylor said.
The program funding, $25,000, was originally announced during the summer and gave the town the option of purchasing infrastructure such as bike racks, planters, banners and signage. However, the town has already done a lot of work in that area.
“The town is already looking really good. We thought the other option would work better in which we could partner with another community organization to give grants to commercial property owners that would cover up to half of the cost of improvements to their building facades,” Taylor said.
The program will provide a grant of up to 50 per cent for improvements to facades up to a maximum of $5,000.
The town approached the chamber about the partnership and its board of directors was quick to agree, something that pleased the business development officer because that organization is the voice of business in Amherst.
Ron Furlong, the chamber’s executive director, said his organization is supportive of the plan because its membership feels a more attractive community will attract tourists who will spend money at area businesses.
“There’s interest in the community and we’ve some inquiries already,” Furlong said.
Taylor said she has heard from at least four business owners who heard about the program at a recent town council meeting. She said she could see business owners working to transform the front of their businesses to make them look more historical.
“It could be things like doors, signage, awnings and even things like planter boxes. Anything that makes the façade more attractive and is in keeping with the historic nature of our town,” she said, adding the program is available to all businesses in town with emphasis being on those that serve tourists.
She said another expectation is the principles of the Centre First Downtown Action Strategy be followed.
“Everything we said about what we’d like to see about the character of downtown that was included in the strategy, we want to see in other areas of the town,” she said.
There is one issue that has to be overcome and that’s the early onset of winter. The program funding is supposed to expire at the end of March 2019, but the snow and cold weather in November has not been conducive to painting and renovations.
“We’re hoping to get fair dates to make this program workable,” Furlong said. “Now is not a good time to paint.”
Taylor is hoping the province will extend the deadline and she’s also hoping the program will be extended into future years.