The identity and economic prospects of Canadian small and rural communities are tied tightly with the health of their central business districts. Since the 1950s and the advent of the car society and the growth of outlying shopping areas and suburbs, our downtowns have seen a steady erosion in their importance, a change in their function, and, in some places, an unwelcome dowdiness. Often times, it just takes one or two prominent under-used or empty downtown properties to set the tone for the area. For many residents, it is those properties that create their discouraged views of the health and attractiveness of the downtown.
The Impact Real Estate (IRE) program is a concept developed by Impact & Main. It is a social impact investment plan that uses social enterprises and an incubation program to turn properties back into productive use while at the same time introducing a new vibe and new businesses to the downtown. The goal is to transform the downtown into a centre of innovation and entrepreneurship and to change residents’ ideas and minds about the desirability of the downtown as a place to shop, do business, and relax.
The IRE project is designed to tackle the twin challenges facing many small and rural communities – the difficulties of attracting outside investment and the creation of an environment that supports risk taking and encourages innovative businesses. It is a customized solution designed to attract social impact investors and help democratize investment and commercial real estate ownership by giving residents the opportunity to invest in their downtown.
Greater Napanee was chosen as a pilot community for the feasibility study of the IRE concept. Impact & Main hoped to develop a model that would:
- Help struggling downtowns revitalize, evoking civic pride
- Build entrepreneurship supported through incubation and innovation
- Combat youth out-migration through fostering leadership
- Create economic diversification through new business support services
- And, provide existing businesses needed support through growth and succession planning advice
At the beginning of the project, we quickly settled on the former Carnegie Library as the site of the Hub. We prepared preliminary concepts and detailed financial projections including identifying several alternative operating models. Ultimately, we were not able to develop a positive ROI for a Carnegie Library project.
Since early 2018, we have attempted to locate another suitable downtown property to house the hub within the ROI model that was created and have been unsuccessful to-date.