Business groups are applauding a plan by Calgary city council to attract new businesses to the downtown core.
Under the three-year pilot project, businesses looking to move in to a vacant downtown office space will not have to apply for a development permit. Council is also eliminating some of the red tape for businesses that want to dramatically alter the interior of a retail space.
Vacancy rates in downtown Calgary have soared to 25 per cent and many retail spaces either on the ground floor, or near the plus-15 network, are empty.
“The economic downturn and the corresponding vacancy rate has obviously hurt our members, the industry and the city as a whole. So, we’re eager to support any initiative that stimulates growth and employment,” said Lloyd Suchet, executive director of the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA).
The Victoria Park Business Improvement Area, another group lauding the move, said it is critical to allow businesses to adapt to the economic challenges in Calgary.
“One of the most common concerns our office hears, is around the difficulties and challenges in opening a new business,” said David Low, the group’s executive director. “Allowing for more flexibility – for businesses to find niches and adapt – is going to be a key component to how Calgary repositions itself in the future.”
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Councillor Evan Woolley said this will be an exciting opportunity Calgary entrepreneurs.
“The costs of starting up a business in Calgary – they are significant. And this will save significant amounts of money and time,” he said. “Given that time is money, this will just save a significant amount of money for businesses that are looking to start up.”
The pilot project will apply to businesses in the areas of 17 Avenue SE to 14 Street SW and north to 3 Avenue SW. Residential areas near Eau Claire, the East Village and Chinatown are excluded.
Changes to historical buildings would still require development permits and approvals.
There are also certain types of businesses that won’t qualify for the relaxation, including liquor stores, nightclubs, custodial care, medical marijuana counselling, pawn shops and payday loan operations.
This move is expected to cost the city $75,000 in lost revenue for each year of the three-year pilot.