WINNIPEG - The provincial PC government is well into its first mandate and while many priorities, such as reducing the deficit and improving health care, are being tackled, it is yet to be determined if downtown Winnipeg is a priority.
We know that the physical face of our downtown reflects on the state of our economy and the condition of our social fabric, and although many things have been accomplished over the years, more needs to happen. With that in mind, we need to reiterate why the downtown is important to Manitobans and why it needs to be a priority for government.
There is compelling evidence today to support why downtowns matter to the economic prosperity of our province and city. For example, our downtown is only one per cent of the city size, yet it generates an estimated 10 per cent of both the provincial and city taxes. The return on investment is massive for taxpayers. This relatively small area generates a whopping amount of wealth for our economy. Like the goose laying the proverbial golden egg, downtown is the golden goose that keeps on giving. It deserves to be nurtured.
The dense, compact form of downtowns generate more taxes and less operating costs per acre, which results in more efficient ways of providing public services. Downtowns matter because our kids, future leaders, creators and workforces want to be in cities that have great downtowns with access to public services that work for them.
In a recent meeting with provincial ministers, the downtown business community shared its thoughts on two important elements that need government help. These elements will allow us to continue our efforts in building a better downtown.
1. Stimulate Planned Downtown Development
Continue making it a priority to provide “market gap” tools, such as Tax Increment Financing, to stimulate downtown development. Without it, further downtown development will come to a grinding halt. Going forward, we should target areas of real market failure. It’s time to focus these limited tools.
- In strategic areas of our downtown.
- In strategic buildings/lands that are empty and not generating any significant taxes, which is also holding back private sector investment.
- On specific forms and types of buildings, ones that are more likely to lead to density and small business growth, and in turn a stronger real estate market.
2. Social Intervention
We need government to intervene in making significant changes to address serious social issues related to poverty. This includes:
- Undertaking significant system changes and approaches that are required to address harms related to substance abuse.
- Listening to the community, which is supportive of the Health and Safety Alliance, Harms Reduction Strategy. Our 1960s approach to dealing with substance abuse is no longer working and it is time for change.
- Implementing the Plan to End Homelessness which is now owned by the community.
These policies do not require new money but do require leadership and people in order to move in this direction.
An under utilized, undervalued downtown property surrounded by current city services will continue to do nothing to improve our downtown market. In order to see change
- Freeze taxes and deliver the incremental taxes created by a new development back to the redevelopment strategy.
- Stop funding programs to help alleviate harms related to substance abuse which are not working and re-direct funding to modern solutions in partnership with the private sector.
Making our downtown a priority will require critical policy directions that keep the momentum going in creating a downtown Manitobans can be proud of and that young people are attracted to, where outside investment is encouraged, and convention goers and tourists seek to go.
Let’s keep the momentum going.
By Stefano Grande, who is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.