Edmonton councillors call for commercial investment program top up

The Ritchie Market is home to Transcend Coffee, Velocity Cycle, the Blind Enthusiasm Brewery and the Biera brew pub/restaurant. March 21, 2017. Paul Rampersaud/ Global News

Edmonton councillors are calling on city budget staff to top up a couple of lucrative grant programs for commercial development.

The grants are aimed at run-down locations that are plagued by derelict and ageing buildings or long-time vacant lots but they’ve been so popular, they’re fully subscribed. There’s no cash left.

Lately, the programs have helped make improvements in Petrolia and Ritchie.

“It’s a huge success,” Councillor Mike Nickel said. “It’s crazy. The program has done wonders for Ritchie in revitalizing what is a historic, four-corner area.”

One such project is a facade program that began in 2003 and has seen 215 storefronts improved, with the city putting in $7 million, generating $35 million in private sector investment.

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Better than that is what staff call the development incentive program, which covers interior renovations, promotes construction in vacant spaces as well as infill for both commercial and residential buildings.

“This is about larger investments in those areas,” Henderson said.

“Mixed-use buildings — commercial on the ground floor, residential up above — improving businesses, making them more viable in ways that go beyond the facade improvement.”

Two-million dollars from the city generated $35 million in private money that has been sporadic, with city top ups happening three times since 2009.

“We’ve got a lot of really cool buildings that have been built in the middle of our areas that put substantially more money on the table than the small bit of investment that we put in to make them possible,” Henderson said.

That includes supporting 316 residential projects, nine mixed-use buildings, 24 commercial spaces and vacant lot infill projects, and six new commercial units, executive committee was told Tuesday.

Mayor Don Iveson asked if the money is coming back directly in higher property tax returns. Chief Financial Officer Todd Burge said administration hasn’t done direct calculations but said it depends on location and the individual situation.

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“If it changes the rental amount, if you’re getting $5 a square foot before — and if you could draw the correlation to the change — and you’re getting $10 or $7, then you could probably extrapolate something out.”

Council will see a budget report in December with recommendations for increased funding.

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