Council committee votes to boost Calgary investment fund by $90M
Fund initially set up to help revitalize downtown core with $10M earlier this year
A Calgary city council committee Tuesday voted in favour of a request for an additional $90 million for a special fund established earlier this year to spur economic development in the city.
Earlier this year, city council approved putting $10 million into the Economic Development Investment Fund (EDIF) to help revitalize the downtown — an idea that came out of the downturn economic summit in March.
A report released Tuesday recommends to the priorities and finance committee that the extra $90 million is needed for the fund, and that the cash could come from the city's savings accounts without any impact on tax rates.
Mary Moran, president of Calgary Economic Development and a member of the fund's steering committee, told members of the committee that the extra investment is the only way the fund can be an effective tool for the city.
She said the downtown office vacancy rate is sitting at about 27 per cent and that Calgary cannot rely on the energy sector to fill that empty space.
Calgary businessman and philanthropist Jim Gray, another member of the steering committee, also made a case for boosting the fund.
"It's the right thing to do," he said.
Coun. Evan Woolley says the city needs to think big if it wants to succeed in drawing major new companies and jobs to Calgary.
"We need to be bold if we are to compete globally," he said.
Woolley says the money will be used to lure companies, perhaps draw a post-secondary school downtown or leverage money from other governments.
Success need to be measurable
"Attracting a significant head office to Calgary, making a big move like bringing a post-secondary institution downtown, attracting an emerging high-tech sector, building a distribution centre — all of those things. And if we want to do lots of them, they are going to take orders of magnitude that size of fund," he said.
Of the eight councillors at Tuesday's meeting, only Coun. Jeromy Farkas voted against putting $90 million into the fund. He said the presenters didn't provide sufficient evidence that the money was necessary.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi says, in principle, the fund is a good idea, but its successes will have to be visible.
"It may not be dollars back to the fund, but it should be dollars back to the city, in increased property tax, in increased employment, in increased economic activity. And that's all stuff we can measure," he said.
The city's report to the committee says the fund's guiding principles will include fast and agile processes, strategic investments, rigorous business case reviews and validation by objective third-parties.
City administrators are working with Calgary Economic Development and the fund's steering committee to lay out a governance model for the fund.
The steering committee has been consulting business leaders in Calgary and examining similar funds in other North American cities as part of its research.
City council is set to take up the issue later this month.
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With files from Scott Dippel