City eyes financial incentives for designated heritage properties

The city is looking at offering more financial incentives for designated heritage properties, a plan that would boost heritage grants from $500,000 a year to $2.5 million.

It would be a major step forward in preserving Calgary’s heritage, Woolley says

This red brick building on 18th Avenue S.W. served as Calgary's first children's hospital in the 1920s. (Google Street View )

The city is looking at offering more financial incentives for those who seek heritage designation for their properties and restore them.

A council committee approved a plan Wednesday to boost heritage grants from $500,000 a year to $2.5 million annually.

The first $2 million would go toward addressing non-residential applications, capped at $1 million per application.

Meanwhile, the full existing $500,000 would be capped at $125,000, to address residential applications.

There's also a proposal to offer tax credits in the city's next four-year budget to the owners of heritage properties — a tax credit of 75 per cent of municipal tax annually for 15 years, up to $50,000 total.  

The tax credit program is estimated to cost almost $18 million over the next 24 years, from 2021 to 2045, and anticipated to result in 321 designated heritage properties by 2030. Currently there are 31.

The historic Enoch Sales house in Calgary's Victoria Park caught fire in February 2019 and had to be demolished. (David Bell/CBC)

Council to debate proposal later this month

If approved, it would be a major step forward in preserving Calgary's heritage and create jobs in working on those properties, said councillor Evan Woolley.

"It is a private sector tool, financial tool, that we're building here to create some economic stimulus, to create jobs but also to protect our local history and our civic identity," Woolley said.

"We as a city have lost over the last few decades so much of our identity — that identity is around the built form that describes our history. Through the downturns were when we lost a lot of that."

Coun. Peter Demong was opposed the changes citing the city's finances as a factor in his decision.

"Don't get me wrong, I appreciate heritage conservation, it is a vital and important part of the city's process. Unfortunately, the situation in the city and the world as it stands is not a good one for finances," Demong said.

"I don't believe that right now is when we should be looking at spending money when we don't really have the right amount."

Coun. Jeromy Farkas also said he wouldn't be supporting the proposal.

"Not enough of the money is going out the door directly to those who would be impacted," Farkas said. "I think across the bureaucracy on this is a bit too high for me to support at this time."

City council will discuss the proposal later this month, and if it approves, then further details of what the tax credit program would look like will be discussed by the priorities and finance committee.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek, who was in favour of the proposal, said she anticipates two main arguments at council later this month when it's discussed — whether it's the right time to pursue heritage preservation during an economic downturn and whether it will be exactly the right timing to help make Calgary an attractive place to come to.

"This is going to be an interesting debate," Gondek said. "I think we've got a council right now that understands we have a role to play in city building and we look after the city as a whole."

With files from Scott Dippel


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