John Tory says scrapping rebate for vacant businesses will save Toronto $22M a year

Mayor John Tory says the city will save roughly $22 million a year by cutting tax rebates to landlords and business owners who control empty storefronts.

City handed out $367 million in tax rebates from 2001-2013

Mayor John Tory stopped to chat with a few people along Queen Street East to ask them what businesses they'd like to see in the area. (John Rieti/CBC)

Mayor John Tory says the city will save roughly $22 million a year by cutting tax rebates to landlords and business owners who control empty storefronts.

Tory announced the plan on a stretch of Queen Street East, near Beaches Park, where several storefronts have been closed for years, even as others flourish nearby.

Tory said from 2001 to 2013, the city handed out $367 million through its property tax rebate for vacant commercial and industrial buildings, and that some 50 per cent of that money went to businesses in the downtown core where property values are "skyrocketing."

"We are subsidizing people to keep space empty that is increasing, almost hourly, in value," Tory told reporters.

"It is not in the best efforts of a healthy city."

Cutting the program, which has city council's backing but requires the province's approval, is a sensible cut to make, Tory said, especially as the city strains to balance its 2017 budget. While the rebate once helped businesses navigate the tough economic times of the early 2000s, now it's something that's "just there," the mayor said.

Several stores on the Queen Street East shopping strip have been closed for years, the local business improvement group says. (John Rieti/CBC)

Beach BIA supports plan

Jessica Wright, the executive director of the Beach Village Business Improvement Area (BIA), said she supports the mayor's move and believes businesses will, too.

Wright said the vacant stores in her area all have different stories, but having them remain shut only hurts the area.

"You can sympathize probably with some of them, but as an overriding theme from a BIA perspective, we just want them filled," she said.

Wright added some of the landlords don't live in the city and can be hard to get a hold of.

"After all this comes out, I'm hopeful that we might hear from them a little bit more."

Beaches-East York Coun. Mary Margaret McMahon, left, and budget chief Gary Crawford, right, joined Tory for Monday's announcement. (John Rieti/CBC)

Beaches-East York Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon blasted the more "notorious" vacant storefronts in her ward that have been closed for decades, calling them an "eyesore on an otherwise vibrant neighbourhood."

Tory said he hopes nixing the rebate will also encourage landlords to make the most of their properties.

"I hope it's going to get some of these landlords moving on finding a tenant," he said.

With Ontario's approval, Toronto could stop the rebates by this summer.