Red Deer city council considers ways it can spur economic development

Grants for improving business exteriors, contaminated and derelict sites proposed

Red Deer city council is being encouraged to take the lead in creating a “strong, dynamic economy” by introducing business grants to help improve storefronts, re-mediate contaminated properties and demolish derelict buildings — as well as other strategies.

“It’s important for the city to be a catalyst for making development happen… starting with the downtown,” said the city’s planning services manager Tara Lodewyk, who presented a report to city council on Monday that was crafted by various city departments.

Administrators were asked to come up with recommendations on how the city can take the lead in stimulating the local economy.

By focusing on making the city’s centre more vibrant, “we can create pride of place,” Lodewyk added, as well as fostering entrepreneurship and innovation.

The Economic Leader report lists some changes that are within the scope of a municipality to make happen to help spur local economic development.

It recommends developing several two-year grant programs — including a one-time allocation of $100,000 to start a facade and storefront improvement grant program.

Lodewyk said property owners could use these grants to help spruce up their commercial buildings’ exteriors, to add signs or help reduce crime through better environmental design.

City manager Allan Seabrooke said this kind of program has been very popular and well used in other centres.

Other recommendations are to create:

– An “environmental site assessment grant program“ with a one-time allotment of $50,000. This would be used for re-mediating for sale or redeveloping contaminated properties, such as former gas stations. It‘s a common program in other municipalities, said Lodewyk.

– A matching grant program with an allotment of $100,000 for the demolition or vacant and derelict properties. Crime could be reduced through this, and it would spark redevelopment, said Lodewyk.

– A grant program that would to help business owners with the cost of utility connection fees for upgrading their water, waste water, or electrical utility connections. Historic downtown and Capstone would be the focus for this $100,000 program over two years, said Lodewyk.

If approved by council, these grant programs could start in February and would be evaluated for usefulness in mid-2020.

To foster more mixed-use residential/commercial developments in the downtown, the report proposes starting a new program that could grant taxes back to a developers for a limited period of time. This incentive could help get mixed-use developments off the ground and allow the city to reap more taxes in the long run, Lodewyk told council.

City council was also asked to consider amending bylaws to promote “land-use clustering” in the downtown. Lodewyk said this would help promote walk-ability and more eyes in the street.

“People want to go to the restaurant, or a retail district and take advantage of night life or Saturday afternoon shopping experience,” Lodewyk said, adding that Ross Street, Little Gaetz and 48th Street would be the focus for the clustering of similar businesses.

The reduction of parking requirements for downtown residences is also proposed. Lodewyk said the land use bylaw would be amended to provide more flexible parking options, with stakeholder input.

Red-tape reduction would include creating a single point of contact for developers to move them quicker through the system.

City council was still deliberating on the report on Monday evening and no decisions were yet made.

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