Burk's Falls has big plans for its downtown

·4 min read

If everything falls into place, the business landscape will grow a little in downtown Burk's Falls beginning in just a few months.

Mayor Cathy Still says the village is waiting to hear from the federal and provincial governments on funding to construct a building at 186 Ontario St., where the Kawartha Credit Union (KCU) previously operated.

Still says the credit union now occupies the former Royal Bank building downtown after Royal closed its Burk's Falls location and moved to Sundridge.

Still says the village signed a memorandum of understanding with the credit union and took over the vacant building to create an economic opportunity for the community and to add to the character of the downtown.

“They (KCU) had no plans for the building, which would have required severe renovations,” Still says. “No one wanted to take that on. And after thinking about it, we decided to go with a new build.”

The building Still refers to is a $1.7-million, two-storey structure that would include a craft brewery in the rear of the first floor.

“The craft brewery would be the main tenant at the back,” Still says. “The front would be made up of open stalls for (Almaguin) crafters and artisans to sell their wares. The second floor would be a gym-like exercise studio.”

Still says all parties would pay rent to the municipality.

In a unique partnership with the credit union, the financial institution continues to own the land while the village would own the future building.

Still says the credit union is not expecting any money from the municipality.

Funding requests were made to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation's strategic economic infrastructure program and FedNor's Northern Ontario development program.

Still hopes to hear from both levels of government by March so tenders can be issued as soon as possible and construction can begin this year.

The mayor says the goal is to have construction completed early enough in 2022 so that all tenants can capitalize on sales in that year.

The federal and provincial governments would pick up the bulk of the $1.7-million price tag, with the municipality footing about 10 to 15 per cent of the cost.

The first floor of the building would be 335 square metres while the second floor would be 214 square metres.

Once complete, Still says the building will employ an “indoor/outdoor market” concept which is not only beneficial to the artisans and crafters, but also allows the craft brewery to set up for outdoor events.

She says the village looked for months to find an interested party who would serve as the main anchor.

That turned out to be the craft brewery, a first for the village, which has yet to be named.

The KCU Market Project, as it's being called, is a result of the village's 2018 downtown revitalization and waterfront master plan.

Still hopes the project not only serves as a tourist draw, but also encourages other entrepreneurs to consider opening a business in the village.

The KCU project is by far the largest Burk's Falls is spearheading as a municipality this year, although Still says there are some private ventures under consideration which can't yet be confirmed.

Still has been saying for some time that Burk's Falls can expect the small community to grow as people move to town for housing that's more in their price range.

“You can no longer get reasonably priced housing south of Novar and also have an ordinary job,” she says, adding “developers are going to take advantage of this area."

For example, while only one new home was built in 2020, four already are to be built this year.

In addition, the community broke a record in 2020 with at last 36 homes being sold.

In response, the municipality has taken on a growth management study to determine whether systems such as water and sewer can handle the expected growth.

“I don't want to guess,” Still says. “I want to make sure we have enough capacity for everyone who wants to come here. And I've said many times, it's going to happen.”

The growth management study is expected to be completed by June.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget