Manitoba

City council waives rent payments for 6 months for a handful of businesses in city-owned buildings

Winnipeg's city council approved several projects and programs Thursday, including waiving six months of rent for a handful of downtown tenants.

Council OKs housing program, while mayor asks province to chip in on transit funding

City council has temporarily waived the rent for eight tenants of city-owned buildings, most of which are underground at Portage Avenue and Main Street. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A few businesses are getting a break on their rent from the City of Winnipeg.

On Thursday, council decided to waive six months of rent payments for eight tenants in city buildings. Most of them are in the underground concourse near Portage Avenue and Main Street. 

"This is critical," said Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre). "If one tenant goes, it's a domino effect, and it really does impact all the businesses."

The six-month time period is from February until July of this year. A report from city staff says those facilities had been greatly affected during the pandemic — from closing due to public health orders, and then facing a significant decline in the number of people perusing downtown.

During the meeting, Gilroy said waiving the rent would be financially beneficial for the city since it would avoid having to find new tenants should the current ones fold.

"As we're making our decisions here today, and things are opening up, things might change in the next few months," she said, referring to how many people will go downtown. "We're just giving them breathing room for that to happen."

Brad Park, who owns and runs Seoul Nami Sushi in downtown Winnipeg's underground concourse, and seven other business owners will have their rent waived for six months thanks to council. (Sam Samson/CBC)

However, Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) says this isn't a good strategy.

"What benefit is it to the citizens of Winnipeg to do this?" he questioned during the meeting, adding that he wanted to add a condition to keep the businesses in their leases an extra six months once the grace period ends.

"I don't see any future plan to ensure these residents don't leave in the next year when their lease is up. ... They could end their lease — many of them are coming up — and leave their properties. We could be out that money and would have to fill those spots."

In the end, council voted 12-2 to waive the rent. Klein and Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) voted against.

Council moves along other projects, approvals

Council didn't debate keeping the city's police funding model at all on Thursday. They passed it without discussion.

Councillors also supported removing the heritage status from a home in Osborne Village, as well as a mechanism to help housing programs get federal funding.

The cost of fuel came up during Thursday's meeting, with one councillor hoping to find a way to save money.

"We're going to have some serious problems with gas," said Klein in an interview. The price of gasoline hit $173.9/litre on Thursday in Winnipeg.

Klein is asking city staff to save fuel costs in many ways, including implementing a no-idle policy, having city staff get to work sites during non rush-hour traffic periods, and by investing in more electronic vehicles.

"We have to be proactive in improving or reducing our use of fossil fuels, and we can be by just doing simple steps like this," he said. 

At present the city spends more than $10 million on fuel right, according to a city spokesperson. Currently, city staff are gathering information on a pilot project with electric vehicles that ended in December, which they will report to council this year.

Klein's motion will go to the city's executive policy committee next month for debate.

Province should 'turn a page' on transit investment

When it comes to post-pandemic transit recovery, Winnipeg's mayor hopes the province can chip in.

In mid-February, the federal government announced $750 million to help cities makeup some finances after the pandemic took a toll on transit fares. That money, though, must be matched by the province.

When asked whether he intended to take Ottawa up on that offer, Brian Bowman said he hasn't heard if the province will match the federal dollars.

"If the provincial government would like to turn a page and send a very strong message to Winnipeg and Winnipeg transit riders, they could say today that they are going to match the federal funding and support Winnipeg Transit," the mayor said during a news conference Thursday.

"We've seen provinces match federal contributions for transit during COVID. We haven't seen that from our provincial government. It is a bit of an outlier when it comes to support transit."

Mayor Brian Bowman says if the province wants to 'turn a page,' it can commit to matching federal transit funding. (CBC)

In an email, provincial Municipal Relations Minister Eileen Clarke said the province has signalled interest in that particular funding, and that it is working on getting additional money for Winnipeg and other communities in Manitoba.

"More broadly, despite tremendous pandemic pressures, we were determined to maintain basket funding support to Winnipeg at its current level of $196.5 million," Clarke wrote.

"This specifically covers transit and all other operating needs, and is among the most generous unconditional operating funding for cities of a similar size in Canada."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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