Tax rebates for $400 million Portage Place redevelopment not unusual: urban planner

The proposed street view of the new development at Portage Place. Starlight Investments

A new program from Manitoba’s provincial government is expected to help support a nearly $400-million investment in Portage Place mall by Toronto developer Starlight Investments.

The program, Manitoba Works Capital Incentive, will use incremental education property tax rebates to support companies making a significant investment in the province.

Dr. Jino Distasio, a professor and urban planning expert with the University of Winnipeg, told 680 CJOB that government involvement in a project like this isn’t unusual or unexpected.

READ MORE: Manitoba’s new tax increment financing to support Portage Place redevelopment

“All three levels of government have been involved since the beginning of Portage Place back in the late ’80s when it was first developed,” he said.

“When development comes to the city on this scale and they’re being asked to include community components, public spaces, I think they’re always looking for an investment. I think if you’re investing $400 million, you’re looking to maximize your return, so I’m not surprised.”

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Plans call for the aging downtown mall to be “retrofitted” with a pair of 20-storey residential towers, new shopping and office spaces, as well as a pedestrian-friendly courtyard and indoor walkway.

Through the program, Starlight is set to receive $28.7 million in rebates spread out over 20 years.

That’s a smaller amount of assistance than other large projects have received in the past, said Distasio, adding that the city’s downtown is at pivotal point, and this project might be one to help ‘seed the missing pieces’ of the area.

“Retail is very fragile, we’ve got a $400-million investment that is going to include residential and some open spaces, so I can see the point of trying to find a partnership approach to making this deal work,” he said.

“In these cases here, the idea has always been ‘let’s work on projects and support projects that are used to leverage development in areas we want to see some growth’.

“Often we see these kinds of developments in areas that are in decline or struggling… and Portage Place, now as it sits, has been struggling.”

Economic Development and Training Minister Ralph Eichler said the program is being introduced at a time when businesses are struggling, and when private sector development has largely stalled.

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“The Manitoba Works Capital Incentive demonstrates that our province continues to be open for business during these challenging economic times.”

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