Coun­cil waives taxes for ho­tel shel­ter­ing health work­ers in cri­sis

Windsor Star - - CITY + REGION - BRIAN CROSS

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.”

NICK BRANCACCIO

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.

Kieran Mcken­zie

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