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Small Northern Ontario town scores unexpected marketing coup with the promise of cheap lots


Since the initiative launched, more than new 60 families have planted their stakes in Smooth Rock Falls

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Struggling in the face of a decline, the small northern Ontario of Smooth Rock Falls introduced an incentive program in 2017 that would reimburse buyers up to 90 per cent of the value of a municipal lot so long as they built a house on the property within two years.

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A golf course-adjacent residential lot with a market value of $5,000, for example, would cost just $500.

There were also generous loan guarantees and tax breaks to be had upon completion of the residential home or commercial business.

The campaign was a marketing coup. Over a thousand inquiries came in, with calls from nearby towns and as far out as Russia and Australia.

But, while a few negotiations are ongoing, four years since the program was introduced, no actual sale of a discounted residential lot has yet been completed (They’re mostly still available .)

Instead young couples and retirees alike visited Smooth Rock Falls and saw a life there, said Luc Denault, CAO director of economic development with Smooth Rock Falls, noting the initiative helped sell existing homes that weren’t selling before.

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“They came looking for a lot and saw all the beautiful homes available at a very affordable price and chose to buy a home here.”

A few of the newcomers even took up the offer of rock-bottom rates for commercial lots and started small businesses, which are now nearing completion, he added.

Since the initiative launched, more than 60 new families have planted their stakes in Smooth Rock Falls, which offers a “great” hospital, recreational arenas, and a “beautiful” nine hole golf course, noted Denault.

In 2017 the average home in Smooth Rock Falls cost $56,000. That figure has jumped 144 per cent, to $137,000 today, Denault pointed out.

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A recently purchased home in Smooth Rock Falls.
A recently purchased home in Smooth Rock Falls. Photo by Shannon Michaud

Back in 2006, the small community, located 100 km north of Timmins, lost its largest employer when a paper mill closed down and left 229 workers without a job. Census figures show the town’s population started to decline in the next ten years, down from 2,400 residents to 1,330. Some houses sold for close to $20,000. Many businesses and homes that went unsold sat empty and started to deteriorate.

“It ended up that we had to take over homes for taxes,” said Denault. Some 20 homes and several businesses were eventually torn down.

“The mill closure … certainly had a very negative effect on the town, both economically and socially,” said Denault. However, he explained, facing a downturn, the mayor and council “persisted” to put together a long-term plan for revival that made headlines and captured people’s attention.

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Attracting more residents and businesses will be the “building blocks” to spur future and existing growth, explained Denault. A sprawling new $3.2 million industrial park, located at the site of the old mill, will help bring in more jobs to town, he said. There are also plans for 140 acres of waterfront property with a mix of residential and commercial lots coming next year.

Legault says he looks forward to more accurate growth figures to arrive with the next census, but the changes are already visible.

“As our Mayor (Sue Perras) would say, (when) she’s walking down the streets, she’s meeting new people on a regular basis.”

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