Cal­gary woes fa­mil­iar to Mon­treal

High down­town of­fice va­cancy rates and daunt­ing tax shift to non-res­i­den­tial busi­nesses

StarMetro Calgary - - NEWS - BREN­NAN DO­HERTY

Decades ago, Mon­treal found it­self star­ing down a prob­lem too fa­mil­iar to Cal­gary: head of­fices flee­ing down­town and an eco­nomic down­turn.

An ex­pert said Cal­gary might want to ex­plore how Mon­treal pulled through.

For much of the 20th cen­tury, Mon­treal was a prime eco­nomic engine of Canada’s econ­omy. But through­out the ’60s and ’70s, some of them were lured west to Toronto, a city grow­ing faster than Mon­treal and re­ceiv­ing more busi­ness in­vest­ment.

Mon­treal lost a lot of well­heeled down­town of­fice ten­ants and suf­fered an eco­nomic slow­down un­til the early 1990s. But the city’s so­lu­tion wasn’t to try to wran­gle them all back at once. Raphäel Fis­chler, dean of the fac­ulty of en­vi­ron­men­tal de­sign at the Univer­sité de Mon­tréal, said it changed tack in­stead.

“I’d say that the strat­egy of Mon­treal was to turn its down­town into a multi-func­tional en­tity rather than a just a cen­tral busi­ness district.

This stands in stark con­trast to Cal­gary’s tra­di­tional boom-bust at­ti­tude to eco­nomic con­di­tions. When the oil and gas in­dus­try crashed in 2014, cor­po­rate head of­fices in Cal­gary slashed staff or fled the city en­tirely. To­day, many of th­ese ten­ants have not re­turned, and city coun­cil is still won­der­ing how to en­sure the prop­erty tax bur­den once shoul­dered by down­town head of­fices doesn’t

crush non-res­i­den­tial prop­erty own­ers out­side its core.

City man­ager Jeff Field­ing told the city’s pri­or­i­ties and fi­nance com­mit­tee Tues­day the past three years have seen core prop­erty val­ues from of­fice space tum­ble over $12.5 bil­lion, amount­ing to a $192mil­lion tax bur­den that has to be shared be­tween 13,815 com­mer­cial prop­er­ties. And there isn’t a clear way for­ward for Cal­gary just yet.

“This is our hot po­tato. I’ve never seen any­thing like it. It’s unique to Cal­gary.”

Take the Cité de Mul­timé­dia, a neigh­bour­hood just south of Mon­treal’s core. Once a derelict site, it filled up af­ter the Que­bec of­fered a 40 per cent tax credit to mul­ti­me­dia com­pa­nies will­ing to move in, cal­cu­lated on the salaries of their em­ploy­ees.

See city’s po­ten­tial so­lu­tions at thes­tar.com/cal­gary

DREAM­STIME

A bird’s-eye view of down­town Mon­treal, which un­der­went heavy re­vi­tal­iza­tion over a span of 20 years. Many peo­ple agree that it’s some­thing Cal­gary could con­sider.

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