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Calgary mayor slams UCP over $5M contribution to downtown renewal


Pointing to the city’s $250-million investment, Jyoti Gondek said more was expected from Thursday’s provincial budget

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Mayor Jyoti Gondek continued her assault on the provincial budget’s lack of investment in Calgary.

In a thread on Twitter, she hammered the $5-million provincial commitment to downtown revitalization, pointing to the $250 million the city has invested, following up on comments she made earlier on Thursday.

“This provincial budget is an exercise in self-congratulation, without any consideration for the fate of Calgarians,” she tweeted. “Decreased investment in housing, transit, jobs, overdose prevention … the list goes on. All from a government that cries for fair deals. Disappointing. Again.”

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Alberta’s 2022 budget set aside $4 million to the City of Calgary and another $1 million to the Calgary Downtown Association for revitalization, funding amounts they matched for Edmonton.

Finance Minister Travis Toews called it a “modest investment” that they believe could make a difference.

The Calgary Downtown Association said it had supported city hall in its request for matching funds but was holding out hope there would be more money available if there was a bigger-than-forecasted surplus due to increased oil royalties.

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Jennifer Rempel, general manager for the association, said revitalization of the downtown is critical for the economic recovery of the city and the province.

“Downtown Calgary is the heartbeat of our city, it’s where everybody comes together to gather, not only for work but for fun, creativity and arts,” she said on Friday. “Making sure that the heart of our city is strong and active and vibrant and a success is a win for all.”

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Rempel said revitalization has been at the forefront for years but was given a focus with Calgary’s Greater Downtown Plan last spring. The pandemic, however, knocked them backward in their efforts.

The hope for the association is that with people eventually returning to work downtown, it will bring much-needed stimulus to the area. But this is just one small part of recovery for the downtown.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the $5 million for Calgary’s revitalization efforts an “insulting afterthought.”

“Quite frankly, why show up at all?” she said. “The people of this city and the people who understand how important downtown Calgary is to our economic renewal need a government who understands their role as partner and not a provincial government that drops it off on them saying, ‘It’s your problem, not ours, catch you next time.’”

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Notley said the NDP would have matched the city’s $100-million investment for office conversion while putting forward grants for revitalization and vacant storefronts.

Conversions are just one tool the city and community at large are using to address a still sky-high vacancy rate in office towers, like the $30-million Sierra Place project, which will open this fall creating 82 affordable housing units for families and seniors.

Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said Calgary is limited in the ways it can raise funds for these types of projects and is reliant on partnerships with the province and federal government.

“It’s a setback … it would be nice to see if there are other ways for the city to raise capital, but that’s also in the jurisdiction of the Municipal Government Act, because that’s where some levers could be created for the city to raise revenues,” she said.

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Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin speaks at a press conference on Nov. 19, 2021.
Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin speaks at a press conference on Nov. 19, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

The province did put $600 million aside over three years for the Alberta at Work program, designed to train and reskill Albertans for emerging industries and technologies. Many of these workers will move into vacant office spaces, like Calgary startup Neo Financial taking on more than 100,000 square feet between part of the Hudson’s Bay building and the nearby Edison office tower.

Seemingly forgotten in the budget, however, was any additional support for the hospitality and tourism industry, which is still largely under restrictions in place since Dec. 24 — minus the province’s COVID-19 vaccine passport program.

They were also not included in the $750-million contingency plan if restrictions do have to come back, as the money set aside is mostly earmarked for health care and other pandemic expenses.

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A Statistics Canada report on Friday morning showed seasonally adjusted sales for restaurants and bars in Alberta shrank 3.3 per cent in December from November — a time which should bring their highest sales of the year. Sales remain 7.7 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, the most recent Labour Force Survey estimates employment in the sector in January was 28,000 (18.7 per cent) below pre-pandemic levels.

These businesses are important to providing much of the spark to the downtown, advocates said.

“The hotel sector and the restaurant and service-based sectors have suffered the most and they’re the ones that do require some immediate assistance,” said Rempel. “I hope through continuous advocacy and opportunities that aren’t just set out here that levels of government can show support for them.”

jaldrich@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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