Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

May 30, 2024

Niagara on the Lake, Ontario

A Tourist Mecca Oozing with Charm

 

Implementing progressive city-led initiatives while preserving a historical gem

Niagara-on-the-Lake, a captivating community nestled on the Niagara Peninsula, beckons over 2 million visitors each year to explore its enchanting blend of shops, dining, and accommodation options. With attractions like the esteemed Shaw Festival offering live theater, and its proximity to Niagara Falls, it’s a bustling but quaint destination and is a must-see stop in the region.

However, this vibrant town is more than just a tourist hot spot. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a thriving community of over 19,000 residents, deeply committed to sustaining growth while preserving a small-town identity.

Lord Mayor, Gary Zalepa, describes, “We have this combination of wonderful geography, coupled with this interesting heritage story that allows us all to live and grow within it. We’re literally down the street from national historic sites, and beautiful geographic scenery, all rolled into a place where we can go get groceries and walk the kids to school.”

 

Balancing Growth and Heritage

Zalepa recognizes the challenges of balancing tourism prosperity and residents’ well-being, highlighting Niagara-on-the-Lake’s ongoing endeavor to develop a tourism master plan. The process is being facilitated by Colliers, an external consultant, and fueled by a collaboration involving stakeholders from tourism, hospitality, dining, and wineries, as well as Council members and business community representatives.

Its goal is to identify investments that will help alleviate the tax burden from the ongoing costs of tourism in the town. The introduction of a new destination marketing organization, which is currently known as Niagara on the Lake Tourism, is also in the works. He explains that the groundwork has been laid to create a separate entity, with specialized expertise in destination marketing.

Diversifying Opportunities

Niagara-on-the-Lake is focused on economic development, and an economic development officer has been brought on board to strengthen these efforts. Additionally, a municipal accommodation tax is being introduced, helping to promote the town as an attractive destination for businesses and investors, with the hope of diversifying the economy and creating opportunities for sustainable growth.

“The landscape is so competitive today. Businesses have amazing opportunities to locate wherever in the world they want to locate. So, we need to make sure that we’re making our case about Niagara-on-the-Lake,” states Zalepa.

A Community of Opportunity

The town itself is organized into five villages, and Zalepa indicates that the village known as Glendale is rich with potential, especially for those in the agriculture sector.

He shares, “With the infrastructure assets we have there- the access to the QEW corridor, Niagara District Airport, and the transportation hub through regional transit integration, there’s an amazing opportunity for businesses to consider locating in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”

As one of Canada’s earliest recognized heritage districts, policies have been put in place to safeguard the historic buildings, streetscape, and natural features of the community. Recognizing the need for balance between preservation and growth, Zalepa says the Council has plans to expand this historical area in 2024.

“We’re going to map out a process to expand the heritage district to further strengthen the town’s ability to make sure that we are protecting heritage, while also recognizing that growth and change happen,” he relays. “You have to have the good rules in place so that when an investor or developer wants to come and do something in town, they have really clear guidelines as to what the expectations are, and how they can best work with our planning departments to get successfully to the projects they want to have done.”

Important Partnerships and Collaboration

Further highlighting the impact of the agricultural sector, which Zalepa says “have led to the success of the town,” he underscores the longstanding partnership that exists between the municipality and farmers.

“Even before we were known for tourism we were growing tender fruit, where many other places in Canada can’t grow it,” he explains.

“A big part of that was an investment made many years ago, in the first organized irrigation system for the agricultural sector.” This partnership between the municipality and the growers resulted in a joint venture that saw water being brought to the local farms, boosting productivity, creating healthy soil, and in turn helping businesses to grow and succeed.

“We’ve been partnered with our farmers for a long time in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and we continue to reinvest in that system, which draws water from the Niagara River, and the Welland Canal, and we’re able to bring that water closer to the farmer into their land, so they can leverage it and irrigate.”

Efforts are now underway to have this irrigation system accepted as municipal infrastructure, opening up opportunities for the town. “We’ve been positively received by the provincial government in recognizing the major pieces of these irrigation systems. For example, the pumping stations, and the significant millions of dollars to invest in the equipment that makes these functions,” expands Zalepa.

“In the past, we weren’t able to apply to the infrastructure funding that’s been on the table. That makes it difficult for us as a small community. We now know the province has signaled that this is going to be changing, and we’re excited about that.”

A long-term partnership with Parks Canada has been important for Niagara-on-the-Lake, especially an initiative several years ago that helped the town navigate the 3000 buses coming into the community annually.

“Having those buses come right into town was problematic,” he relays.

“We partnered with Parks Canada, which is the Fort George site, and we came up with a solution for that,” Zalepa elaborates. The resolution involved rerouting the buses to the Fort site, where visitors are welcomed by a representative providing information about local attractions and directing them to a shuttle service that transports them to the town.

The presence of Niagara College and its Niagara-on-the-Lake campus is another tremendous asset to the community, attracting interest and investment from businesses, particularly in the hospitality and retail sectors.

“We are just so blessed to have that type of post-secondary institution in our community,” Zalepa claims. “They focus on the strong points of Niagara, like the viticulture industry, their chef program, their agricultural and horticulture programs, all leaning on strengths that Niagara-on-the-Lake has to offer.”

 

Connecting Communities

Businesses such as White Oaks Resort and Spa have long been contributing to the vibrancy and success of the Glendale area of Niagara-on-the-Lake. “The family that owns White Oaks, they’ve been in our community since the 70s, and they’ve been the pioneers of believing that the Glendale area was going to be the place to invest. We’re seeing that happening now,” says Zalepa.

In partnership with the Niagara Regional Planning department, he adds that an initiative is underway to facilitate the mapping of future development and integration with key transportation infrastructure including rail, highways, airports, and the seaway. “We’re ensuring that we put the long-term plan in place to properly identify where different uses can fit into that significant piece of land, which is several hundred acres around the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) corridor,” he reports.

Other efforts include upgrading road infrastructure in the community, such as the recent enhancements to Niagara Stone Road, a main artery connecting the town to the QEW. “We completed the rehabilitation of that roadway, all through our Village of Virgil. We basically took all the old wires, and we put everything underground,” Zalepa depicts. In addition, streetscape and beautification improvements were made, redefining the regional standard for design.

The twinning of the Garden City Skyway is an upcoming project that will have a significant impact on the region. “This is probably the single biggest infrastructure piece that Ontario has invested in, in the Niagara region, in 50 years,” boasts Zalepa.

The goal is to increase present and future capacity on the busy QEW which is often bottlenecked during the busy summer months. “We’re working with the region, the town, and the province to begin to look at some of the additional infrastructure that’s going to need to be updated and adjusted around the bases of the Skyway. That’s going to improve the traffic flow and the active transit all around Glendale, which is what we want long term,” he says.

Mentioning the town’s plans to add more residential units as the Glendale community evolves, he continues, “We want people to be able to get on to public transit, or use their bike, or walk. All of that is coming together, which is pretty exciting. But the Skyway redevelopment is going to be a fairly significant infrastructure piece.”

Staying True to the Strategic Plan

As Mayor Zalepa reflects on the town’s priorities, he says the emphasis is on staying true to the strategic plan. “There is only so much capacity that a small municipality has,” he remarks.

“We have a great opportunity, long term, for our community if we continue to show that Niagara-on-the-Lake is a great place to invest and that we’re interested in ensuring that we protect the heritage and the landscape and the beauty while welcoming the investment.”

AT A GLANCE

Niagara on the Lake

What: A charming community drawing 2 million tourists annually

Where: The Niagara region of Ontario, Canada

Website: www.niagaraonthelake.com

PREFERRED VENDORS

White Oaks Resort – www.whiteoaksresort.com

Long an icon in Niagara-on-the-Lake, White Oaks Resort & Spa is Ontario’s first combined 4 Diamond 5 Star Resort with a reputation for outstanding comfort and luxury service. Featuring refined guestrooms, casual and fine dining, internationally recognized Spa, sprawling fitness club, expansive conference centre, and convenient access to Niagara attractions.

Nederman Canada, Ltd. – https://www.nederman.com/en-ca

Nederman Canada, Ltd. celebrates its 35th year in Canada and global headquarters Nederman Holding AB celebrates its 80th anniversary of pioneering clean air solutions for workplaces that include manufacturing, fire departments and vehicle repair shops. Since 1944, the company has developed technologies to protect the health and safety of workers worldwide.

Vintage Hotels – www.Vintage-hotels.com

Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake – www.wineriesofniagaraonthelake.com

Hummel Properties Inc. – www.hummelproperties.ca

Niagara College Canada – https://www.niagaracollege.ca/

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