News / Calgary

Calgary councillors pitch plan for downtown turnaround

Farrell, Woolley ask for economic summit to talk rule relaxations, incentives

As vacancy rates skyrocket, Coun. Druh Farrell says it's time to meet and discuss drastic changes to help remedy the downtown economic situation.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

As vacancy rates skyrocket, Coun. Druh Farrell says it's time to meet and discuss drastic changes to help remedy the downtown economic situation.

Coun. Druh Farrell has seen the economic situation in Calgary’s downtown, and she knows it’s dire.

Having been a small business owner for 20 years, she knows what other owners are going through.

“They’re suffering because the downtown is weak – and a strong downtown is a strong Calgary,” she said.

Farrell and Coun. Evan Woolley are pitching the idea of a downtown economic summit to council this Monday.

If approved, the one-day summit would likely be held in February, and would get players such as small business owners, real estate experts, various levels of government and industry associations into a single room.

“Getting everyone in the room for a summit is important, but also holding strategic planning sessions for council is critically important, so we can coordinate the approach and if it’s necessary, change the rules and create incentives,” said Farrell.

She said nothing is off the table, from tax holidays to business incubators to relaxed zoning laws.

She wants to change the rules to get Calgary’s downtown functioning again.

“It’s very much like what we did with East Village. We sent a clear message to industry, to developers, to anyone who was interested that we are entertaining creative ideas, and that’s what we need in this case,” she said.

Mary Moran, President and CEO of Calgary Economic Development (CED), said for the past 10 months, real estate experts and CED have been working on a 10-point plan that could help breathe new life into the downtown.

The ideas range from faster rezoning, to turning office space into living space, to urban gardening.

“The reality is – and we know this from other jurisdictions – we can work with the city, we can work with the real estate community, but do need leadership from city council and the mayor on the work that we’re doing,” said Moran.

Moran said the cost of the summit would be negligible. She joked she can get everyone in the room for the cost of the muffins and coffee.

Farrell said the downtown will not bounce back quickly without this sort of intervention.

“This is a structural problem. The oil industry is not coming back like it was. If we ignore it, we’ll be facing a 30 per cent vacancy for years to come.”

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