Bells Corners hopes for economic boost from new building project proposal

The city's finance and economic development committee will consider a proposal Tuesday to offer property owners in Bells Corners some tax relief when they launch new building projects on vacant and underused lots.

Tax relief being considered for new projects on vacant, underused land

A city committee will consider a proposal Tuesday to offer property owners in Bells Corners some tax relief when they launch new building projects on vacant and underused lots — like this Robertson Road property, where a former bar stood vacant for seven years before being demolished in 2010. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Business owners in Bells Corners hope a proposal that would see property owners receive some tax relief if they build on vacant or underused land might give the west Ottawa neighbourhood a much needed boost.

The "quality and vibrancy" of the Robertson Road corridor has seen a significant decline in the last few decades, Ottawa city staff say in a report that will be considered Tuesday by the finance and economic development committee.

They describe how 468 businesses, including many chain stores and restaurants, have closed or moved away — many to so-called "power centres" in nearby Kanata or Barrhaven.

Jim Sourges, the chair of the Bells Corners Business Improvement Area and owner of The Electrical & Plumbing Store, says the area needs another anchor business that will draw customers the way IKEA did in the 1990s.

One of the businesses that relocated was furniture store IKEA, which was once located across from The Electrical & Plumbing Store, owned by Jim Sourges.

"It was a huge draw for the area. It was the anchor tenant that Bells Corners hasn't had since they moved out in the mid-1990s," said Sourges, who also chairs the Bells Corners Business Improvement Area.

But Sourges hopes the proposed community improvement plan — something that's been tried before only in Orléans and on a stretch of Carling Avenue west of Pinecrest Road — can reinvigorate Bells Corners and draw customers.

"We're really looking to prime the pump to have new development happen here in Bells Corners," said Sourges.

If you build it, you could receive some tax relief

Under the proposal, grants would be offered only after a property is completely developed and its value reassessed.

The City of Ottawa would then give back three-quarters of the new, extra property tax the owner pays each year, for up to ten years and up to $5 million.

The city would keep the other quarter of the increased property tax. Part of the appeal for the city is that it's possible the incentive could finance itself.

The BIA hopes a new proposal to grant property tax relief for developers could mean new buildings go up on vacant or underused properties, such as this parking lot at Moodie Drive and Robertson Road. (Kate Porter/CBC)

Sourges said 52 properties have been identified as candidates for possible development, but he's especially hopeful about certain large tracts. 

He sees promise in a large parking lot that stretches out in front of one of the last remaining Zellers locations in the country, at the intersection of Moodie Drive and Robertson Road. 

There's also a promising empty lot on Robertson Road, where the former Vox Lounge was torn down in 2010 after standing vacant for seven years. Another acreage with potential sits tucked behind the commercial strip, adjacent to a trailer park.

Defence employees moving into former Nortel

The six-year-old BIA has worked hard to convince businesses to set up in Bells Corners, said College Coun. Rick Chiarelli, also a BIA board member.

At one point, said Chiarelli, there were 17 boarded-up storefronts in Bells Corners. But the new tax relief proposal will be the kickstart the area really needs, he added.

"The timing of this report is exactly right," said Chiarelli, who promised to revitalize business in Bells Corners during the last municipal election, a commitment the mayor also made.

Thousands of national defence employees — and potential future diners and shoppers — are finally expected to start working out of the old Nortel campus before the end of the year, he said.

"If we in Bells Corners don't use this opportunity to capture the customer potential in that," Chiarelli said, "then we're going to miss a major opportunity."