City rethinking commercial tax breaks for Orléans

The City of Ottawa is revamping the tax breaks it offers commercial properties in Orléans and will no longer require they bring highly skilled jobs to the area, but will instead settle for 20 new full-time jobs of any kind.

Focus on highly skilled jobs failed to yield results, councillor says

In 2009, the City of Ottawa approved financial incentives aimed at encouraging commercial property owners to invest in their sites on St. Joseph Boulevard. (Kate Porter/CBC)

The City of Ottawa is revamping tax incentives aimed at attracting highly skilled jobs to Orléans, settling instead for commercial redevelopment that creates full-time positions of any kind.

Long before it targeted Vanier for revitalization, awarding a Porsche dealership there a tax break that could be worth $2.9 million over 10 years, the city created a pair of community improvement plans for Orléans.

One, aimed at the eastern suburb's main commercial strip of St. Joseph Boulevard, has resulted in seven grants since 2009, including a new Farm Boy grocery store that by next year will get back $448,621 of the $640,887 it's paid in taxes since opening in 2012, a rebate of 70 per cent.

The other program offered tax incentives for any redevelopment that lures highly skilled jobs to Orléans, where there are 120,000 residents but few employers. Only a couple of grants have been given since that second program was launched in 2013.

"Neither had the uptake that we would have liked to have seen," said Coun. Matt Luloff during a virtual community meeting Wednesday night.

Now, the city will combine both programs to try to lure more jobs, improve St. Joseph Boulevard and encourage street-level businesses to open near the new light rail extension due to arrive in a few years.

East end 'open for business'

Innes ward Coun. Laura Dudas said the revamped program should send the message that the east end is "open for business."

Economic development officer Chris Cope said applicants will have to show that their developments wouldn't go ahead without the city grant.

By next year, this Farm Boy on St. Joseph Boulevard will get back nearly $450,000 of the $640,000 it's paid in property taxes since 2012. (Google Maps)

Cope said the city wasn't having great success attracting knowledge jobs to Orléans, and will instead aim for redevelopment that can create any 20 full-time positions of any kind. 

"We simply want jobs. More jobs in Orléans, I think, is a good thing," said Cope.

The tax incentive would be capped at $5 million over a decade.

Cope said staff have mapped out 700 commercial properties in Orléans that could stand to be renewed and would be eligible, but said the city can't "cherry pick" grant recipients.

Because provincial law prevents municipalities from offering other financial incentives, such community improvement plans are one of the few tools the city has to promote economic development, municipal officials say.

Council has decided to put off a cost-benefit analyis of the community improvement program until 2023.

The Orléans community improvement plan goes to the finance and economic development committee July 6, rising to city council the next day.

The City is proposing a new program of financial incentives for commercial properties in Orléans. The purple areas seen here are zoned commercial, while the red line shows the area that will target development along St. Joseph Boulevard and the blue lines will be areas targeted for pedestrian-friendly shops near the new LRT stations. (City of Ottawa)