Downtown Red Deer businessman Paul Harris. (Advocate file photo).

Red Deer business owners welcome proposed changes to boost development

Proposed grant programs hang on 2020 city budget process

Having once paid $30,000 for an electrical re-connection for his downtown development, Paul Harris is excited about new economic incentives being considered by city council.

One change could be a new grant program to help developers with the cost of re-connecting or expanding utility lines. Harris predicted this would be a big boon in spurring new projects.

The owner of Sunworks and the Metropolitan Block — who is also a former city councillor — said he’d long lobbied for many of the incentives are now being considered by city council. Harris is particularly thrilled about a proposed program that would off-set taxes for a limited time to get more new mixed-use developments off the ground.

He believes this could be of “huge’” benefit in a recessed economy as it would relieve some of the financial strain of getting new developments up and running.

Harris also believes reducing parking requirements for downtown residential developments would be a positive incentive for development since people who live close to amenities and transit service don’t necessarily want cars.

Another former city councillor and downtown business owner, Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer, was also positive about the changes council is considering to fuel the local economy.

That many of these initiatives centre on the city’s core makes sense to Watkinson-Zimmer, who owns Comforts the Sole, and feels the downtown is the heart of any community.

She is pleased with proposed grants that would help developers improve their buildings — or knock down derelict properties that cast an undesirable pall on a commercial area.

Watkinson-Zimmer also likes the proposed grant to help re-mediate contaminated or under-used properties. And she supports land use changes as well that would create clusters of like businesses, such as a restaurant of retail strip.

She feels this is already happening to some extent on Ross Street and Little Gaetz.

Some of the grant programs presented to council on Monday will depend on the city being able to afford them at this time of uncertainty. The provincial budget, which will be presented on Oct. 24, could include financial cuts for municipalities.

Red Deer city councillors gave the report preliminary approval, but asked that the financial implications of the proposals be brought back for more discussion as part of the 2020 budget.

“The City of Red Deer wants to get out of the way of business, and do what we can to keep our city thriving,” said Allan Seabrooke, city manager.

Watkinson-Zimmer would like the municipality to encourage more apartment or condo developments in the downtown, rather than just having more transitional housing units spring up for people with addictions or mental health issues.

She mentioned clients of social service agencies are already creating a lot of problems. Harris wondered whether clustering these agencies in one spot might reduce the general impact on downtown businesses.

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