Council is applying for a federal grant to help pay for continued downtown improvements, but has adjusted its focus slightly. (Houston Today photo)                                Council is applying for a federal grant to help pay for continued downtown improvements, but has adjusted its focus slightly. (Angelique Houlihan photo)

Council is applying for a federal grant to help pay for continued downtown improvements, but has adjusted its focus slightly. (Houston Today photo) Council is applying for a federal grant to help pay for continued downtown improvements, but has adjusted its focus slightly. (Angelique Houlihan photo)

Council adjusts pitch to feds for downtown improvement money

Also wants money for new community hall

The District of Houston is having to adjust its long-term downtown beautification and improvement plan because of limitations on what a federal grant program will finance.

While the Canada Infrastructure Fund will consider road, water and drainage system project applications, it won’t cover sidewalks, beautification aspects or ways to increase accessibility for residents, District communications officer Holly Brown told council in an extensive Sept. 8 memo discussed at its Sept. 15 meeting.

And that affects council’s original plan to apply for money for a full scope of improvements on 10th Street and Poulton Ave., called Phase 2 of the long-term downtown improvement project plan, she said.

“The full scope of the Downtown Revitalization Phase 2 project as approved [by council] would not be eligible under the [federal grant] program outcomes and have a low chance of success in such a competitive funding program,” she said.

Instead, following discussions with District chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck and Urban Systems, the firm hired by the District to plan and cost out the long-term plan, Brown suggested including adding major water system upgrades for Butler Ave. to a revised grant application.

Adding Butler to the civic works portions of the work wanted for 10th St. and Poulton under Phase 2 would still be less than the grant amount council had intended to request.

“Staff will continue to pursue grant funding for the portions of this project that will not be applied for under the [federal] program such as beautification elements and sidewalks, if council decides to take this route,” Brown noted.

While Urban Systems is now to refine projected costs under the revised plan, the District could be eligible for a federal grant of $3.602 million for the civic works portion of 10th and Poulton or $3.842 million if Butler was added, Brown said of preliminary estimates supplied by Urban Systems.

Council’s intention is to apply for 80 per cent of the revised project cost. The remainder would come from a provincial northern grant for planning and capital works, monies which were first provided in 2019 and then added to this year.

At the same time, council also adjusted another application, this time to a separate section of the Canada Infrastructure Fund which provides money for community, culture and recreation projects.

It’s this section which council hopes will help finance a new community hall, a project that’s part of the District’s strategic plan to update and improve its facilities.

Council hired BV Engineering Services in July at a cost of $32,250.75 to prepare a preliminary design and cost estimate but that won’t be ready by the Oct. 1 application deadline, Brown told council in her Sept. 8 memo.

Instead it’ll submit an application with a very rough estimate, called a Class D estimate, and then send along the information from BV Engineering Services when it’s ready.

Approved projects could receive up to 73 per cent of total costs.

Brown, in her memo regarding the downtown plan and the community hall project, did caution council about how both applications might be received.

“It is important to note that it is also unlikely that both applications would be approved … as the grant programs aim to spread funding equally to different communities,” she wrote.