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CIPs that Enable Economic Growth

CIPs that Enable Economic Growth

#WednesdayswithMDBinsight – Lauren Millier, EVP

There’s a valuable planning tool (or process) that has tremendous potential for economic developers in Ontario but may not be familiar to many – the Community Improvement Plan or CIP. 

Community Improvement Plans (CIP) are tools available to municipalities to support targeted investments and specific area improvements, primarily in the physical/built environment. These result in the rehabilitation of existing buildings or the redevelopment of derelict or underutilized properties. The original intent behind CIPs was focused on mitigating brownfield blight, but over the last several years they have increasingly been used to enable economic development, growth, and diversification.

Early adopters in this regard found ways to use CIPs in urban settings, targeting downtown revitalization for example. Others followed with innovative applications in the agriculture and tourism sectors within rural areas. Looking at the progression from the original intent of CIPs to more recent boundary-pushing examples may inspire those in the economic development space whose attention has yet to turn to the potential uses of this tool.

Moving Beyond Brownfields

Community improvement planning and activities are shaped by local needs, priorities and circumstances. Municipal council may determine that improvement within a designated community improvement project area may be desirable because of “age, dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangement, unsuitability of buildings or for any other environmental, social or community economic development reason”, as set out in subsection 28(1) of the Planning Act. 

Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing Community Improvement Planning Handbook 2006 (

There are good examples of municipalities pushing the limits of CIP policy in support of creative economic development and growth solutions. Some of these municipalities were early adopters of broad-view community improvement planning and have helped to demonstrate its significant potential. Others were among the first to pursue upper-tier community improvement planning (only allowed for upper-tier since 2006, in Regions; others must request approval from the Minister of Municipal Affairs).

Some Notable Urban CIPs

  • In 2001, the City of Hamilton became the first Canadian municipality to develop a brownfields CIP. Judy Lam, Manager, Urban Renewal Section, Economic Development, presented at the 2019 EDAC conference recently, saying “the CIP has been amended to stay innovative and to address current legislative amendments in environmental regulations with the most recent update completed in 2018” and talking about the resulting ERASE program that is a big component in the city’s ongoing revitalization.
  • The Downtown Kitchener CIP was first adopted in 1997, with several amendments through 2014. It represented a revision, with new objectives, to Kitchener’s original CIP (1988) and an overall objective “to maintain and improve the existing built up areas of the City”. With downtown and urban renewal efforts dating back to the early 1970s, this CIP followed from previous infrastructure and service improvements and three downtown studies and provided a framework for creating “a safe and healthy urban environment within which opportunities are provided for people to satisfy their social, economic and psychological needs and for maintaining and conserving the integrity of their natural and cultural heritage”. More specifically, it promoted “a compact urban form, efficient and effective delivery of services, employment opportunities, environmental conservation and protection and the promotion of cultural diversity” focused in the downtown.
  • Niagara Region’s Gateway Economic Zone and Centre CIP (2012) was prepared “to create an attractive investment climate for employment lands through such measures as improving their appearance, improving infrastructure, reducing the cost of servicing industrial lands, expanded targeted tax increment equivalent grant programs on a regional scale and opportunities for developing environmentally sustainable industrial buildings in such a way as to ensure sufficient employment lands are available for the future”. The Gateway CIP promotes projects that revitalize, strengthen and diversify strategic zones within five Niagara municipalities. The Region offers two programs where eligible projects can receive significant tax increment-based grants to offset the increased taxes driven by higher property values at project completion as well as grants to offset development charges. To date, more than $36 million has been approved for Gateway incentives.

Innovative Rural CIPs

Prince Edward County prepared a Community Improvement Plan to stimulate investment in its economy and to support implementation of its Creative Rural Economy Strategy. In 2010, Economic Development Officer Dan Taylor had this to say:

Innovative Rural CIPs“The CIP is a municipal tool that the County is using to offer better municipally integrated services and financial incentive programs to stimulate private investment in the overall creative economy. The tool is aimed at creative workers and entrepreneurs and focused on four targeted sectors of the local economy– gastronomy, creative industries, green business and healthcare & wellness.” 

Elgin County, a pioneer in upper tier community improvement planning, developed its Elgincentives CIP (2015, amended 2019) with a focus on grants and rebates to support development of downtowns, waterfronts, agricultural and tourism areas. The CIP recognizes the importance of the creative rural economy and was designed to support private sector development in these key areas. Recognizing its coordinating role over local municipalities, the County established a review committee for applications that are then processed in a standardized way with templates developed for lower tier municipalities who pay grant funds to successful applicants. The County identified three goals for its CIP: stimulate economic growth and diversification; enhance the quality of place for residents and visitors; improve the stability and sustainability of the tax base. Local Councils adopt the Elgincentives CIP and local municipal staff then help to support County administration according to Elgincentives Vision and Implementation Guidelines.

In the County of Wellington, a new breed of CIP looks beyond brownfield rehabilitation or derelict downtown cores and focuses on the specific opportunities available to rural communities.  The Invest Well Community Improvement Plan was adopted by the County of Wellington in 2018 as a way to pursue economic diversity, support current businesses, and attract new investment in a primarily agricultural region. Two primary objectives were set for the Invest Well CIP.  The first was to increase available rental housing units beyond the suburban areas of the county and a historical focus on detached single-family homes. With declining populations and mainstreet commercial vacancies in several rural hamlets, the CIP targeted units above commercial spaces and in other underutilized properties with incentive programs for property owners including the Invest Ready Incentive Package and a Tax Incremental Equivalency Grant (TIEG).  

To strengthen diversification, predominantly rural and agricultural communities were interested in developing both rural and agri-tourism attractions as well as diversified on-farm businesses and value-added enterprises.  Rural tourism development was supported with funding for roof-top patios, outdoor dining, privately owned publicly accessible spaces, bed and breakfast accommodation units, and other short-term accommodations. Diversified on-farm businesses could apply for the TIEG for developing farm market locations, processing and production facilities.  Grants for building improvements could be utilized for upgrading farm outbuildings to use for storage, processing or farm markets.  

Where traditional CIPs were focused on strict geographic locations, usually downtown or industrial redevelopment areas, the rural CIP developed by Wellington County and other rural CIPs across the province encompass the entire municipality to address the diversity and the vibrancy of the economy and businesses in rural areas.

Key Take-Aways

Together with early adopters like Norfolk County (CIP) and Haldimand County (Downtown CIP; Rural Business and Tourism CIP) the communities featured here are examples of CIP success stories and offer good insights for economic developers wanting to know more about how to use this tool to full advantage. Among the key messages I have gleaned from their experiences are the following:

  • A one size fits all approach to Community Improvement Plans isn’t effective.  An incentive program in one community may not be effective in another. Local assets and market conditions play an important role.
  •  CIPs can be powerful economic development tools if properly aligned with economic development strategies which requires collaboration between planning and economic development staff.
  • CIPs can be used to support new construction or expanded construction in targeted economic sectors which leads to new employment opportunities.
  • the idea of designating an entire municipality as eligible areas for CIPs.  They have traditionally been directed at a limited geographical area, but new CIPs are opening up entire municipalities for eligibility.

There are several good resources available for those wanting to examine CIPs in more detail or familiarize themselves with the planning policy context for a CIP. Here are two that you might find helpful:

Lauren photo 2019 cropped-1To learn more about Lauren and the rest of our team, go to

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