Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

$10,000 condo subsidy dies a quiet death

Other plans to invigorate east downtown still on table

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A plan to cut $10,000 cheques to downtown Winnipeg condo buyers has died a quiet death at city hall.

In July, council approved a $2.3-million package of condo subsidies that would have made $10,000 available to anyone who bought a new, unsold and unoccupied condo in the northeast section of downtown and would live in that unit five years.

A bylaw was supposed to come forward this fall to allow the subsidy to proceed. It would have applied to new condos in four downtown neighbourhoods: the Exchange District, Chinatown, Civic Centre and the western portion of South Point Douglas.

'I don't think there's the appetite there, so we should close the loop and change the policy'

-- council property chairman Jeff Browaty

But public opposition to the idea -- along with a decline in council support -- led city planners and the CentreVenture Development Corp. to abandon the idea.

"There are other things they can do (and) put their time and energy into," Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz said Tuesday, confirming no bylaw will come forward to make the condo subsidy a reality.

The condo subsidy was part of a broader, $7.8-million Exchange-Waterfront Neighbourhood Development Program that also called for debt-financed spending on new patios, more foot patrols, additional lighting and incentives to bring retailers, such a major grocer, to the northeast corner of downtown.

The program was approved at the July council meeting by a 13-3 vote. But only days after the meeting, four of the councillors who voted in favour of the program said they didn't properly scrutinize the condo incentive, which would have funnelled new property taxes from all areas of downtown into the Exchange-Waterfront area.

Council property chairman Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said it became clear there weren't enough votes on council to pass the bylaw required to make the subsidy happen.

"I don't think there's the appetite there, so we should close the loop and change the policy," he said in an interview.

Other aspects of the Exchange-Waterfront program will go ahead. The $2.3 million set aside for the condo subsidy will be devoted to infrastructure, said Ross McGowan, CentreVenture's president and CEO.

An entirely different downtown-development incentive program, however, is expected to come before council early in the new year.

During the 2010 civic election campaign, Katz promised incentives to reduce the number of surface-parking lots in downtown Winnipeg. The mayor said the plan is now complete and should be tabled early in 2014, even though some people "question whether we need it or not, with all the activity that's going on."

Browaty is one of those people. "Market conditions are finally taking hold," he said, referencing a flurry of real-estate transactions in downtown Winnipeg.

The incentives proposed by Katz in 2010 involved property-tax holidays for developers who build on surface lots, which he described as a blight.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 18, 2013 B2

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