Council waives taxes for hotel sheltering health workers in crisis
City councillors have unanimously waived taxes worth as much as $364,000 for a downtown hotel that’s been converted into a residence for front-line hospital workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
“This is an extraordinary circumstance,” Ward 9 Coun. Kieran Mckenzie said Tuesday of the situation surrounding the Holiday Inn Select, a downtown Riverside Drive hotel owned by developer Shmuel Farhi, who basically handed over the keys in April to Windsor Regional Hospital so staff worried about infecting family members could sleep away from home.
Because its use changed from hotel to a hospital support facility, City of Windsor administration recommended a writeoff of taxes for the property from April 1 to the end of 2020 or when the province lifts its emergency regulations, whichever comes first.
There was no one else willing to provide the hospital with a residence, Mckenzie said, expressing gratitude to Farhi for providing the recently renovated building.
“This is an entity and a business in our community that has stepped up with one of our health-care providers to provide a service that in the early days of the pandemic was a tremendous community need.”
In late May, council put the brakes on the waiver until a more thorough report could be prepared. The resulting report also recommends the waiver, reasoning that the lease allows Windsor Regional to use the building as a “hospital worker support operation,” for meetings as well as for sleep and accommodation.
“WRH would be considered to be operating a public hospital at the premises and therefore the property would be exempt from taxes during the time of such operation and use,” the report concludes.
Staying there is free, thanks to commitments valued at $650,000 from Windsor Family Credit Union and Farhi. Farhi was originally going to charge $50 per room per day, about one-third the going rate, and have WFCU pay $25 and the residents pay $25, but then decided to not charge the residents.
Mayor Drew Dilkens said when efforts were initially made to find a residence for hospital workers, no other hotel was willing to give them rooms for less than $75.
“Many didn’t want anything to do with this because they didn’t want to be branded as a COVID hotel,” he told councillors, applauding Farhi.
“This was the person who stepped up to make this happen,” Dilkens said, adding Farhi is also in the process of a massive $200-million housing project next to the WFCU Centre as well as multimillion-dollar renovations of his downtown hotels.
“So he has been a good community partner and I appreciate that.”
Dilkens said that by waiving as much as $364,000 in taxes, the City of Windsor is “being a partner in the provision of an important service.”
At the start of the pandemic, the hotel averaged about 70 residents spread out over its 150 rooms. These days it has about 50. Farhi has provided a manager and facility person to help operate the hotel, which is locked and off limits to members of the public.
There are strict rules, with no visitors allowed and hotel residents required to stay once they check back in.
Many didn’t want anything to do with this because they didn’t want to be branded as a COVID hotel.
Council’s decision to waive the taxes also has the consequence of erasing the $24,654 levy the Holiday Inn Express pays to the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association.
Councillors agreed Tuesday that will be a significant hit for the BIA, so as part of their motion was a request that the lost BIA levy be replaced with a donation from Farhi.
The city’s BIAS have been playing an important role helping the city’s small businesses rebound from the financial pounding they suffered during the pandemic, said Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin.
“Almost $25,000 is a sizable chunk to remove from their budget,” he said. “I think this is a fair discussion to have with the proponent.”
City council has agreed to waive $364,000 in taxes for the Holiday Inn Express during the pandemic as the hotel is serving as a temporary hospital residence.