Despite coming close to approving Bracebridge’s Downtown Master Plan, council ended up deciding to delay a decision on it to give them more time to review it.

The approval of the plan was postponed until the next general committee meeting on October 12th.

The plan was done by design and planning firm Brook McIlroy. The eight elements detailed in the plan are the reconstruction of Manitoba Street, what to do with the property at 10 Entrance Drive, improvements to the Woodchester Villa area, Bracebridge Bay Park improvements, repurposing the Bracebridge Public Library building, finding a new use for the post office site, improving Memorial Park and the residential development and youth park site at the Memorial Area.

The five “guiding principles” in the plan are: increase access to the waterfront, integrate aspects of sustainability, culture and community into the downtown fabric, create a vision that represents the highest and best use of urban assets, strengthen Bracebridge’s potential for providing sustainable economic development and continued prosperity for its residents, and follow an economically feasible approach to implement the vision.

The makeover of Manitoba Street will be split between the southern and northern segments. The south end will see the sidewalks and traffic lanes widened and more space for on-street parking. The changes will make it so the south end of the road can be “entirely transformed” into a pedestrian zone for special events. In the plan, it’s recommended that the northern portion of the street expand the sidewalks and make parking spots flexible to allow them to be used for things like patios. 

The town acquired the property at 10 Entrance Drive in 2016. RONA, which currently occupies the space, has a lease for the property until June 2022. It’s recommended that the space be used by the town as a waterfront park. It would include a splash pad that could be converted into a skating rink, waterside boardwalks, an Indigenous placemaking project, trails and bicycle lanes. 

The Woodchester Villa would be better connected to 10 Entrance Drive and a viewing platform is proposed to be installed that overlooks the Muskoka River. “Built in 1882, Woodchester is one of the oldest residences in the Town of Bracebridge,” the design firm writes in its plan. “Its octagonal shape and picturesque location on top of a hill and surrounded by trees make this an iconic building that has been recognized for its unique qualities.”

The plan for Bracebridge Bay Park would see access points to the water’s edge be created along with a new washroom facility. The shoreline would be worked on to “restore the natural function” of the bay’s habitat and protect it from erosion and flooding. Ample space would be made available for programming, events, food trucks, and parking.

With the Bracebridge Public Library set to move to the future Muskoka Lumber Community Centre (MLCC) once it opens in 2023, the building it currently occupies on Manitoba Street will be left empty. “It was emphasized that the (library building) would be an ideal location for a Bracebridge Museum and Archive since the town does not have a centralized location for its cultural or historic documents and artifacts,” the firm writes in their proposed plan.

“Should the post office land become surplus and available for redevelopment, the site should be made available to a third-party developer for a three to four storey, mixed-use development accommodating retail, office and residential uses,” it says in the plan. The post office located at 98 Manitoba Street is currently owned by the federal government. One of the options put forward could see the building house Bracebridge’s municipal office. 

The Memorial Park would get a makeover with the existing bandshell staying but given a facelift. A permanent washroom building is also proposed.

Finally, the Memorial Arena is recommended to be used for a “range of housing types” including affordable housing. The nearby skate park would be maintained and enhanced as a youth park with a multi-sport court, water fountain, shade structure, washroom building, and seating installed. With the MLCC on the horizon, Brook McIlroy officials say the arena could be a way to improve the housing situation in Muskoka.

In 2021 dollars, the projects are estimated to cost: $14,718,600 for the Manitoba Street Reconstruction, $8,634,190 for the work on 10 Entrance Drive, $994,443 for the improvements to Bracebridge Bay Park, $832,500 for the work on the Bracebridge Public Library building, $531,612 for the Woodchester and Park Improvements, the project at the Memorial Arena site would cost $517,842, and the improvements to Memorial Park could cost $103,785. 

If the plan is accepted by council and all the construction goes according to plan, the projects would start in 2022 and finish by 2028. 

The proposed Bracebridge Downtown Master Plan can be found on the town’s website