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City of Red Deer rolls out financial incentives to boost downtown

Five different rebates or grants available for building upgrades and other downtown investments

The City of Red Deer has rolled out financial incentives that could be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to help give the downtown a boost.

Five different incentive rebates or grants were announced on Monday to encourage beautification and investment in the city’s core.

The incentives are the result of city council’s $850,000 two-year commitment to boost economic development that was approved in the last budget, said planning services director Tara Lodewyk.

“These programs show our commitment to the downtown,” said Lodewyk. “We understand in today’s economic climate that people need some extra help.”

City staff developed the program with input from consultants, who specialize in ways to attract visitors and investment into downtowns.

“We recognize that downtowns are the heart of our cities and play a vital role as our communities’ business, administrative, and cultural centres,” said Lodewyk.

Under the programs, rebates are available for businesses looking to spruce up their facades and signs or undertake rev-ovations.

Up to $20,000 in funding is available for a single facade, and $30,000 for two facades. Up to $10,000 is available for security improvements using crime prevention through environmental design principles.

Another rebate — which can be worth up to $20,000 — helps businesses recover some of the cost of undertaking environmental site assessments.

To encourage the demolition of vacant and derelict properties, a rebate can be applied for that will cover some of those costs.

Half the cost, up to $25,000, is available.

Up to $20,000 is available to upgrade or replace utility connections and $25,000 for the demolition of vacant or derelict properties.

The city has long seen the value of mixing residential and commercial in the downtown to help create a vibrant community. A residential and mixed use development grant is designed to promote the development of multi-family or mixed-use properties while reducing costs for potential investors.

Grants are based on the value of construction: $50,000 for a $1 million project, $150,000 up to a $4 million project and $250,000 for a project valued at more than $4 million.

Housewarmings owner Catherine Robb wished the programs had come along a little sooner. She has just finished spending tens of thousands on renovations and improvements, including nearly $30,000 on upgrading utilities, which would likely have been eligible for a rebate.

“It would have helped hugely. I wouldn’t be in so much debt now,” said Robb, who moved her business to the south side of Ross Street from the north last summer.

“Anyone whose doing something like this now, this is pretty amazing,” she said.

However, the program does not help struggling merchants who do not own their own buildings.

“It will be up to the landlords on whether or not they feel like doing it,” she added.

Robb said she has some more work she would like to do and hopes to apply for help under the city’s initiative. She expects others will be inspired to upgrade.

“I can’t see how it can’t. Building prices are low right now, and if you can get these kinds of grants to help fix up these buildings I don’t know what else you could do to give people an incentive except, of course, lower the business tax,” she said with a laugh.

Downtown Business Association executive director Amanda Gould is pleased with what the city has proposed.

“I’m really hopeful there will be some uptake. They are great programs and so much needed for downtown.”

Gould said the business association worked with the city on the program to help businesses improve their security and upgrade their facades. The association has similar initiatives although with a smaller budget.

Financial help for upgrading utilities could also prove a huge help for business owners looking to renovate, she said. The cost of upgrading utilities can be a significant and unexpected cost, she said.

“I think the city recognizing the risks and costs associated with development in the financial climate we’re in really does show they’re trying to spur on development.”

Property owners and developers can apply under all five programs for a single property.

The first applications will be taken starting on Saturday and running until March 15. A second application window is expected to be open July 1 to Aug. 1.

The rebate and grant roll-out is just the latest of a number of efforts the city has embraced to improve the vibrancy of the downtown. Last November, council approved a grant to cover half the road closure costs — to a maximum of $2,500 — for organizations running downtown events.

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