‘Insulting after-thought’: Mixed reviews of Alberta’s funding for Calgary downtown revitalization

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‘Insulting after-thought’: Mixed reviews of Alberta’s funding for Calgary downtown revitalization
The Government of Alberta has committed $5 million towards downtown revitalization efforts in Calgary. As Adam MacVicar reports, the money is welcomed but some in the city were hoping for much more. – Feb 25, 2022

An investment from the Government of Alberta into efforts to revitalize Calgary’s hollowed downtown core is receiving both praise and criticism in the city.

As part of the 2022 budget, the province is allocating $4 million to the City of Calgary and an additional $1 million is earmarked for the Calgary Downtown Association (CDA) for downtown revitalization.

According to Jennifer Rempel, general manager of the CDA, the money from the province wasn’t expected but is welcomed

“Any investment into the downtown is much needed,” Rempel said.

Rempel told Global News on Friday that it will take time to understand what the provincial money can be spent on and how the CDA plans to focus the investment on its downtown revitalization work.

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According to Rempel, The hope for the CDA is further investment from the province into the city’s downtown.

Click to play video: 'Alberta Budget: What’s in it for Calgary?'
Alberta Budget: What’s in it for Calgary?

“I hope we can convince the province that future investments and more significant investments are needed,” Rempel said. “I hope that we can show, from the money that has been invested, we can make fast use and really great use of those fund and prove that we warrant additional funding and additional investment in in a major way.”

But the provincial investment was on the receiving end of sharp criticism from Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“I would like to think of $5 million as a starting point,” Gondek said Thursday. “I think if this government was serious about our downtown and our economic recovery, and frankly the level of investment we need in diversification, they would’ve been more serious than the $4 million they’re giving to the city.”

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The City of Calgary brought forward it’s strategy to to revitalize the downtown core last year which came with an initial investment of $200 million to kickstart the plan.

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It’s a 10-year plan the city said will focus on lowering office vacancy, improving downtown vibrancy and supporting the development of areas that attract residents, visitors, and businesses.

Calgary city council had previously asked the province to match its $200 million investment.

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Alberta economist breaks down Alberta budget

“What was announced in yesterday’s budget was an insulting after-thought,” Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said Friday. “It represented two per cent of what the City of Calgary was asking for.”

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Notley told reporters her party, if elected, would invest $100 million into the portion of the city’s plan that would see some vacant office spaces converted into residential apartments.

The official opposition said it plans to release it’s own strategy for the city’s downtown in the near future.

The UCP government told Global News Friday that “the number one” thing the province can do for downtown Calgary is “to create the best business environment to grow and attract investment to our province.”

“Budget 2022 includes investments in flood mitigation, which is critically important for the downtown, the Repsol Sports Centre, the Calgary Court of Appeal, and the Glenbow Museum,” Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation spokesperson Tricia Velthuizen said in a statement. “The $5 million allocated specifically for the downtown is a part of this overall equation.”

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Alberta Budget: Finance minister says province has a responsibility to maximize oil production

The province’s statement also pointed to growth in several sectors in Calgary including in film and television, as well as “record venture capital investment across the province” over the last three years.

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“The overall economic direction of Alberta right now is on the right track and will continue to improve the vibrancy and diversity of Calgary for generations to come,” the statement said.

Last year, the province put together the Calgary Office Revitalization and Expansion (CORE) working group, a group of 12 panelists chaired by Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer to craft a report into how to fill vacant office towers and create vibrancy in the city’s core.

The report was expected to be sent to the province in September.

For businesses that rely on traffic in the core like Green Bean Restaurant, the bottom-line impacts predate the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant work-from-home measures.

“Twenty-fifteen was the start of the decline and the economic downturn,” Green Bean co-owner Jackie Tyler told Global News. “I think I said out loud in 2019, ‘Can things get any worse?’ Oh yeah, they can.”

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Alberta budget includes $600M jobs plan

The business has been impacted both with its catering and dine-in services. But there is optimism for improvement when the province lifts the work-from-home order as part of its plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

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Tyler said she is excited about plans to revitalize the downtown and hopes the efforts will result in more visitors and businesses coming through the core.

“More people downtown is only good for business,” she said.

with files from Global News’ Adam Toy

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