Report on Downtown Vitalization to Date

The idea of Downtown Vitalization for Cobourg first started in 2011 with the first plan produced July 2013. It was intended to make Cobourg’s Downtown more vibrant and attractive with fewer closed stores.  The idea was that an upgrade of its appearance would increase the attractiveness of Downtown to both businesses and residents.  Over time, responsibility for the project moved from the Economic Development Advisory Committee to the Cobourg Downtown Coalition Advisory Committee (DCAC) and at the next Committee of the Whole Meeting on February 19, the DCAC will issue their “Final Report”.  Although the report is labelled “Final”, they recommend that the committee be “re-constituted by the Town for at least another four years”.  The report is a comprehensive review of accomplishments and sets out the current status of the project.

It’s quite long – 45 pages; if you want to read the whole thing, you can download from a link provided below.  The DCAC also provided an update in October 2016.


  • A Downtown Master Plan has been created (Downtown Master Plan – Final Approval – 14 Feb 2016)
  • Community Improvement Plan (and its implementation). (Report on Council being asked to approve it – 12 March 2016).
  • Support for Victoria Square Phase IV – Final Victoria Square Design – 28 April 2017.  This is on hold pending obtaining grants from the Provincial and Federal Governments.
  • Business attraction marketing plan – Start Here – advertising expected to be completed March 2019. (Report with details here – 27 June 2018)
  • Henley Arcade has been re-furbished, including a new mural.
  • Vehicle wayfinding signs for Downtown have been installed
  • Five vacant stores on King St. mounted displays of art in empty windows in 2018.
  • An initial set of performance measures has been established and accurate data have been compiled for the last four years.
  • A Strategic plan has been created which provides a set of Goals for the next 5-10 years.


  • Engaging property owners and convincing them that they have a role to play in the success of Downtown.
  • It has been difficult to engage real estate brokers and agents in vitalization.
  • The communications effort was not consistent, resulting in sporadic updates.  The web site has been slow to update. (Go to it here)

The Coalition is committed to measuring success (or otherwise) as seen in their interim report in October 2016 (see link above in second paragraph).  One initiative has been to install pedestrian counters to see how traffic changes with the season and with Town Events.  For example, the graph above/right shows how Rib-Fest had no impact on Downtown pedestrian traffic in 2017.

Cobourg Downtown Pedestrian count 2017
Cobourg Downtown Pedestrian count 2017

One early idea was the very expensive CIVIC plan.  It would have required a senior manager and millions of dollars of investment by the Town to provide loans to businesses wanting to upgrade their buildings.  It was put on hold pending looking at what could be done with the CIP; the latest thought is that the CIVIC program will now die.

The CIP has been successful since it has a leverage of 4:1 – that is, building owners spend 4 times as much on their building upgrades as the amount loaned or granted by the Town.  The amounts in the Town’s budget in 2017 and 2018 (and planned for 2019) were $150K although less than this was disbursed.

Another major study that went nowhere was the Tourism Assets Study.  The consultants for this study were asked to identify which Town owned assets could be best used to promote Tourism.  The results were kept under wraps for quite a while and when finally released it had the conclusion that “the best investment opportunity was a boutique waterfront inn and restaurant located on the current Victoria Park Campground site. Council accepted the report for information purposes in August 2015 and the results were subsequently incorporated into the Waterfront Needs Assessment.” 


The report recommends some changes in the re-constituted Downtown Coalition Advisory Committee (DCAC):

  1. The DCAC should have representation from Tourism.
  2. The DCAC should regularly re-examine the Downtown Master Plan and recommend actions for Town implementation. The same should be done for the Cultural Master Plan once Council accepts it.
  3. A concentrated effort should be made by the Town to find funding for Victoria Square development. 4. The Community Improvement program (CIP) program should continue to be funded by the Town at the current level or increased as determined by future uptake of the program. Measures should be devised and data collected to ascertain the impact of the CIP program on Downtown Prosperity and Livability.
  4. The CIP application evaluation criteria should continue to be tuned and revised by DCAC. As well, DCAC should consider implementation of methods to improve the efficiency of CIP program administration.
  5. The DCAC should look for innovative ways to engage and motivate Downtown property owners regarding the maintenance and rejuvenation of their buildings.
  6. Marketing of the Downtown to suitable prospective businesses is crucial and should be systematically planned and conducted.
  7. To complement the current business attraction program, a customer attraction program for local residents should be prepared and implemented by the Town, supported by DCAC.
  8. Renewed effort should be made by DCAC to engage the real estate community as partners.
  9. The current set of measures should be updated yearly and new valid measures, especially measures of vitalization outcome, should be incorporated.
  10. The Residents Survey should be repeated to provide an update on residents’ perceptions and opinions about Downtown.
  11. A communications plan should be developed by DCAC to regularly update the public on its initiatives. In particular, the successful initiatives should be celebrated. The web page should be kept current.



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5 years ago

Well now it is getting time leave Cobourg after 30 years. Vitalazing might not be a real word however revitalizing downtown Cobourg might never be a reality. Let’s move on from the vitality that was in the past. Preserve it in a profound way in terms of people and properties.
Now move forward with a plan in 3 stages to raze and rebuild the whole of the block between Division St and Second St on rhe south side from King to Albert. This is the time to think what may be appealing in the future are far as a live/work/ play space.

5 years ago

Well good news, while we are all sharing thoughts, I have just Leased for a 5 year term for a franchise store in the Former British Pantry. The building is still on the market for sale but now with a fantastic long-term tenant installed. Freedom Mobile (formerly WIND) sees the value in opening their newest flagship new-branding site in Downtown Cobourg. They have 12 locations currently and are going to be an awesome tenant to accent our shops and service offerings in the Downtown Core…and will add some good traffic.
As well, Market and Smor (can’t find the umlat or what not for their squiggle mark above) is now Open for business on King St East! Have not been inside but have seen lots of pictures of their wonderful reno and I am excited for their fresh produce and ultimately grocery offerings in a convenient location.
I also popped in to put the “leased” sign on the window for the Freedom site and was happy to see The Royal Spa at 89 King W was opened until 8pm — I went in and treated myself and enjoyed a fantastic mani pedi (didn’t go in the steam bath but was so tempted to take them up on that free offer to enhance my relaxation experience ! Next time!) The scents and pretty environment was so relaxing and needed after all the shoveling and weather — Opened until 8 was very helpful to my schedule ! Felt like a mini vacation for a fraction of the air fair since I am not taking a holiday this winter as many are lol Also, they have full hair and massage and esthetician’s and makeup 💄 service. Pretty cosmopolitan for our small town downtown : )
So, there you have some more Progress Update in the Downtown to be happy about : )
I heard another franchise is going into the shop across the street under renovation currently – the former Cobourg Health Shop location between Somerville’s and El Camino but not sure which franchise it is.

5 years ago

I’ve thought of moving to the area with my two boys, maybe eventually investing in a restaurant. Went on a camping trip to Presquile and stopped in Cobourg on our way home. Went to the downtown core. This was in the early Spring, two or three years ago. We checked out the beach, King St. and drove around a bit. Saw a picture of Lowry (Raps) in a jewelry store, that was pretty cool. But, we were struck by the lack of people. I think we might have walked by three people or so. So strange, the town is beautiful, but no one out and about. We did pass by a Mexican restaurant that looked pretty interesting. Would have stopped in, but it was near the end of our camping trip… tired and dirty. Anyhow, hoping to check out the town this summer. The area looks full of potential!

5 years ago

Almost 8 years since I moved here and I see not much has changed. Some great looking new stores have opened recently, but I have yet to find them open for business when I go! I have started to shop more in Port Hope and Bowmanville because the stores are open when they are supposed to be and there is more variety. I do want to support downtown Cobourg but, help me out here! On another note, it took trips to THREE grocery stores to find ingredients for a recipe today. If it’s not “run of the mill” I am not going to find it in Cobourg.

Jim Thomas
5 years ago

Note that …”HOME, an Arts Centre in Manchester…combines movies, dining and theatre. It revived a ho-hum area of the city.”

Dining has to be a key to it all. No one is going to show up or linger long unless they know they can select from a variety of eating establishments of every level from street food to fine dining. Whether that is already the case downtown I will not presume to judge.

Reply to  Jim Thomas
5 years ago

Sounds like a good idea and option for the Park Theatre location

Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

The British newspaper The Guardian has been writing often about ‘the retail apocalypse’ that has devastated Main Streets over there.
The only businesses that seem to do well are those in the ‘experience economy’.
To quote: “New figures show we are continuing to spend less money on buying things, and more on doing things – and telling the world about it online afterwards, of course. From theatres to pubs to shops, businesses are scrambling to adapt to this shift.”
The Guardian gives the example of HOME, an Arts Centre in Manchester, the combines movies, dining and theatre. It revived a ho-hum area of the city.comment image

Not sure how the Manchester experience can be applied to Cobourg,
But perhaps art and culture can lead the way and, of course, the Waterpark.

manfred s
Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

hey Walter, might I suggest “window wraps” and “free rent for a year competitions”? I hear they come highly recommended…sorry, but I couldn’t resist 😉
I agree with sandpiper in that there seems to be a failure to address one of the root causes of downtown’s dilemmas, the lack of critical mass in consumer traffic which, if remedied by repatriating core residents, would provide sufficient potential to attract more businesses. It seems we’re going at it from the ass-end and the lack of appreciable progress is not registering with those in positions of influence to the extent that they are willing to admit the weaknesses in the plan and revise it. In one, maybe two words … stubbornness and ineptness. Volunteer ‘strategists’ just cannot deliver the insight and experience needed to recognize and understand the scope of problems and appropriate solutions.

Walter L. Luedtke
Reply to  manfred s
5 years ago

Interesting comment, Manfred, by a realtor about getting involved in vitalization.
It seems that realtors fluff, and boost and sell what already is here in Cobourg.
There is little interest in getting involved in what could be or what should be.
What could be, is always controversial and, of course, political on the municipal level.
That does not prevent realtors to be active on the Provincial level – in fact there is an Ontario Realtor Party.
Among other things, the ORP “are trying to prevent the government from moving forward with the Home Energy and Rating Disclosure (HER&D) program that would force sellers to complete a “time of listing” energy audit and post the score as part of the listing.”

Reply to  Walter L. Luedtke
5 years ago

Look into the Home Energy Audit impact to home owners – consider seniors or those on a fixed pension for one example, trying to sell their home and reap a small benefit from their nest egg – and now having to add $20,000 for repairs and updates before they can sell due to the new guidelines that have changed over time and their HERP score not being attractive. Perhaps consider the reason behind opposition to HERP? It’s not necessarily as socially responsible as you may want to imply. Should really read both and all sides of issues.
Also – re downtown fluffing — yes I’m a Realtor but I do not just fluff what is here — I do Volunteer on what can become. I guide and encourage and inspire and assist in the entrepreneurs who dream big and try to make their dreams “ become “ and tap them into the information and advisory with the town and government programs to help dreams become plans and become actual businesses downtown. Thanks for considering all the perspectives, and hoping you will maybe consider all the facets of what goes on.
It’s not very easy to “fluff” an Empty store or an economy that is not yet there or a population that is not there for traffic to your business. One has to help encourage and envision and incent and recommend and show what this town is becoming – not what it is. We do not have hard numbers or population so it’s quite a big job to help those willing to invest ahead of the curve.
It’s also hard to sell builders on residential development in the downtown core when red tape and building costs are sometimes difficult hurdles to overcome.
There is much that happens behind the scenes by realtors – do not underestimate the value of them in building a healthy downtown and town and overall economy.

manfred s
Reply to  Denise Liboiron
5 years ago

“It’s also hard to sell builders on residential development in the downtown core when red tape and building costs are sometimes difficult hurdles to overcome.” … this needs some serious consideration if downtown is going to begin its recovery. Perhaps you can enlighten us on the deeper aspects so we can begin to see the path before us. Start with the “red tape” and follow through on the (higher) “building costs” for downtown.

Walter L. Luedtke
Reply to  Denise Liboiron
5 years ago

Thank you Denise your points are well-argued and must be considered to get a balanced picture. Thank you.

Old Sailor
5 years ago

I am not an expert in retailing. But I do shop downtown whenever possible.

When by accident I venture into Shoppers Drug on their Senior’s Discount Day the line ups are amazing. Fortunately I can quietly and quickly go through the self checkout area.

Has the downtown retail group considered a one day a week or month where everything is 15% off in every store? Or some other downtown wide regularly scheduled promotion.

Reply to  Old Sailor
5 years ago

Lots of my Senior friends are not buying stuff. They are trying various ways of getting rid of stuff.
Want some free neckties?

manfred s
Reply to  Albert
5 years ago

…and that goes a long way in explaining the number and popularity of ‘thrift’ shops and ‘re-‘ outlets, Albert. Their effect on the retail landscape should not be underestimated.

Mrs. J.
Reply to  Albert
5 years ago

Albert….you definitely “hit the nail on its’ head”! The DBIA doesn’t want to acknowledge the fact that there is probably MORE customer/shopper foot and car traffic in Cobourg patronizing the various restores on Covert street, The Restore up Division, and at The Mission Thrift Store over at Victoria Plaza than there is at the current shops on Queen Street!
I, like so many seniors here, am keen to downsize, so I frequently donate my “stuff” to these places, BUT also check them out….because one can always find a fantastic bargain at these locales.
It follows the trend of RECYCLE and REUSE!
Furthermore, not just seniors frequent these places….many young families, singles, people of varying ages, on fixed incomes, and the wealthy as well….all visit these restores regularly looking for a way to save money. Moreover, the profits from these places all go to fund various great causes!
Perhaps the DBIA should be thinking “outside the box” i.e. wee storefront shops, and turn our downtown into a quaint “0utlet Center” that still has that exterior small town look, but definitely looks different once you step indide the doors! Cobourg could then become “The Feel Good Town Because You Can Find A Bargain” be it at a restore or at an outlet shop!
Just a thought…..

5 years ago

Curious and wondering where the two “challenges” here have come from?

Engaging property owners and convincing them that they have a role to play in the success of Downtown.
It has been difficult to engage real estate brokers and agents in vitalization.

Many many of the business owners Downtown are championing vitalizations efforts and well aware of their roll in the downtown successes and have been doing many hours of work to come together as a team for promotional events and marketing to attract business to the Downtown – staffing and promoting events that benefit the whole not just their individual shops/services. Not quite sure where that assessment came from?
Also – Realtors — that doesn’t seem to be a fair comment either since many Realtors are the front lines attracting clients through their marketing and sales efforts to consider the Downtown as a viable business location. We are constantly discussing and marketing and touring clients – we spend lots of time and money through various media and campaigns and reach out to a diverse and broad audience to market the town and downtown – for relocation of residents and businessss. We do lots of effort for the property owners we work for as well as for the town overall as we know a healthy town and Downtown is part of attracting more residents as well. More residents also attracts more business and helps existing business to be successful. We are well aware of the symbiotic and integral relationship of residents and business success.
I was involved in the marketing partnership efforts of the Downtown Coalition and I do not knwo where those two bullet points of “challenges “ came from.

The more accurate challenges I would identify are:
Population still being small for the number of retail spaces
Commercial property taxes to run a venue
Amazon and online shopping competition
The overall economy / taxes/jobs/disposable income

Reply to  Denise Liboiron
5 years ago

Not to mention the poor conditions of our pot hole parking lots , Derelict and unsightly conditions of many of the buildings both street front and the rear view . I know one of your clients has invested heavily and gone above and beyond anyone else in town to over come and improve his section of the downtown core and they should be applauded for their efforts .

5 years ago

Well if the Town is still failing to recognize the real issues of the downtown ????. There are many valid reasons
that make it difficult for small business / commercial tenants to succeed that have yet to be dealt with
or acknowledged . Its like treating an addiction you must first acknowledge the problems in order to move on
with a cure . As far as Realtor engagement is concerned I was aware That Mr Keven Narroway
had in fact engaged and formed a group of 5 prominent Real estate Brokers with varying backgrounds and degrees of experience to assist and help study the real issues facing the down town core and specifically the
trials and tribulations of the small business operators There were several meetings with the realtors at the time but I believe the findings were not what the town officials that Narroway reported to wanted to hear .Was this info Suppressed ?
May be someone could contact Mr Narroway for further comment I understand he has done marvelous things with the Port Hope down town .