by Deron Johnston
I sat down with a downtown Kemptville resident this week in a local coffee shop. I asked him what subject was important to him, one that he wishes someone would talk about in the North Grenville Times. His response was that it seems like there’s a lot of uncertainty around downtown Kemptville and its future these days. He said that he wished that people who lived downtown and were on limited income knew what was happening in the downtown area, so that they knew what their futures might hold. Rarely does it appear that we consider how our ‘big plans’ impact those people who are the most vulnerable and least mobile in our community. There are a number of situations affecting downtown that are currently up in the air, and there seems to be little information being shared about their status.
For example, many have asked about the fate of Kemptville Landing, the two condominiums towers that were to be built by the LA Group in downtown Kemptville. There was a ground breaking last year, but still no work being done. The hope was that this would bring a large number of people to live in the downtown area and increase foot traffic for local businesses. The project seems to have hit several roadblocks along the way, including a re-design of the buildings and property. This is also uncharted waters for the municipality, in terms of increasing population density in downtown Kemptville on such a large scale. So far, though, all we really know for sure is that not even one of the two towers has materialized.
Kemptville Campus is another issue that would affect downtown. It’s still unknown whether the municipality will be able to buy the campus from the Provincial Government. If they do, will they stick to the business plan that they paid a lot of money for, or go in a new direction? One has to wonder how long it will take to attract enough tenants to be able to cover the cost of buying and operating the campus. Maybe there are some possible tenants lined up already? There’s lots of rumours about who might, or might not, be interested.
Another piece to the puzzle is the state of the underground infrastructure (water and sewer). It apparently needs a very big investment to get it functioning properly. Some people believe that the municipality may have to sell off some of the campus land in order to pay for the work. North Grenville CAO, Brian Carré, said that he expects to have an update on the Kemptville College situation at the end of March.
There’s also the issue surrounding the ongoing empty commercial spaces in Downtown Kemptville. The Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area [BIA] seems to be making efforts to try and make things happen, but their attempts to solicit help from council and the municipality seem to be falling on deaf ears. The BIA’s pop-up shop program is an attempt to attract businesses to fill the empty spaces in downtown, but the program seems to be stalled, as the BIA looks for the funding necessary to help launch it. Some people believe that downtown is dead and money is just being wasted on it at this point. However, there seems to be a lot of positive activity happening for an area that some people have written off. Just this week, we learned that an Eastern Ontario firm called ISI Controls Inc. has leased the empty space at 113 Prescott Street for three years, and could have as many as ten employees moving in on April 1.
If all of these situations turned out positively, then surely downtown property values would go up? If property values went up, then the current property owners, who have been sitting on properties without maintaining or improving them, or even trying to bring in tenants, would logically look to sell. If they did, there’s a very good chance that residential rents would go up, with new property owners having paid more for those properties. Would the new owners even want to have rental properties? The municipality and council would be happy, because they would collect more property tax because of the higher property values. But what about people on fixed incomes who can’t afford their current hydro bills and now must pay more rent? I doubt anyone seriously considered that possibility. Then again, it rarely seems like people with limited means get much consideration in North Grenville.