Toronto street front businesses will have access to new grants for commercial property improvements. City council has approved plans to channel federal COVID-19 relief funds into two separate programs for interior renovations/retrofits and exterior site upgrades, and has also authorized expanded eligibility for the city’s existing grants for improvements to commercial building facades.
The new Commercial Rehabilitation Grant Program will provide up to $20,000 to cover 50 per cent of the cost of a range of renovation/retrofit measures including: structural and fire safety upgrades; plumbing, electrical and HVAC upgrades; energy and water-use reduction; flooring, ceiling and wall finishing; installation of affixed furnishings such as counters, shelving and interior signage; and up to $2,000 in design fees. Qualifying applicants can additionally receive up to $4,000 to cover 50 per cent of the cost of accessibility upgrades.
Grant recipients must be owners or business tenants of street-level commercial premises, and business tenants must also obtain written permission from their landlords to undertake the improvements. Projects must encompass at least three of the eligible upgrades and have a budget of at least $5,000. Owners of multi-unit properties such as plazas and strip malls may qualify for up to $4,000 per unit for other upgrades within that property to a maximum of $20,000.
The new Commercial and Industrial Property Improvement Grant Program will cover up to 50 per cent of the cost of site improvements, patio installations or outdoor fixtures related to the CaféTO program to a maximum of $5,000. In this case, owners or business tenants of industrial properties are also eligible if the upgrades meet with program parameters. All improvements must be visible from a public street or laneway or a private laneway with public access.
Grants are available for lighting, fencing, ground mounted signage and permanent landscaping features, but furniture and plant material is excluded. Project costs must tally at least $2,000 to qualify for the program. Businesses are also eligible for up to $2,500 in additional funding to cover up to 50 per cent of the cost of accessibility upgrades.
Funding for the two new grant programs comes from federal support for Toronto’s pandemic recovery efforts, which was announced in July 2021. From the $18 million bestowed through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, the city has allocated $6 million for the Commercial Rehabilitation Grant Program and $1 million for the Commercial and Industrial Property Improvement Grant Program to be disbursed over a 30-month period ending in the spring of 2024.
Meanwhile, city council has decided to lift the previous locational restrictions that made the Commercial Façade Improvement Program available only within business improvement areas (BIAs). Now, owners and business tenants of street-level commercial properties anywhere in the city can apply for grants of up to $12,500 to cover up to 50 per cent of the cost of building façade upgrades, including replacement of windows and doors. They can also qualify for an additional grant of up $2,500 for accessibility improvements, and owners of multi-unit properties can qualify for an additional $2,500 per unit for work elsewhere on the complex to a maximum of $12,500.
The city of Toronto will continue to fund this program. In addition to opening it up for citywide applicants, the previous requirement to be free from property tax arrears has also been withdrawn.
Toronto’s economic development and culture division will administer all three grant programs. As stated in the enabling by-law, which Toronto council adopted on October 1, the programs will be opened for applications on an annual cycle and applications will be considered on a first-come-first-served basis in order of submission date. Grant recipients will be required to have formal approval before the improvement work begins.