SURFACE parking lots are both eyesore and public safety hazard, says Mayor Sam Katz, who's promising to reduce the number of empty tracts in downtown Winnipeg.
Katz pledged Wednesday to create an incentive program to prevent developers building up on empty lots from getting hit with higher property-tax bills. Downtown Winnipeg has 140 surface lots, he said, estimating "20 to 30" are owned by the city.
Under the proposed program, any downtown surface lot that is developed upward will enjoy a five-year freeze on property taxes -- and then see the higher assessment resulting from the improvements kick in over the following three years.
"To me, it's a win-win-win," Katz told reporters gathered at a surface lot at the corner of Donald Street and Ellice Avenue, claiming incentives to develop surface lots work better than penalties for property owners who fail to develop empty plots.
Right now, an empty lot currently assessed at $200,000 could be reassessed at $2 million if it becomes a commercial property. Katz said his proposed program will remove higher tax bills as a short-term obstacle to development.
The surface-lot tax incentives would not be open to any developer who takes advantage of other tax-incentive plans, such as the city-provincial strategy aimed at residential development.
Parkades would be eligible, but only if they have retail or other commercial developments on the main floor, Katz said.
Katz, who has mused about getting rid of surface lots since last December, could not explain why he waited until the civic election to introduce his tax-incentive plan.
"We've talked about this in the past, so now we're moving forward," he said. "I'd like to think with a good proposal, the time to do it should be any time you're ready."
Katz's pledge arrived six days after mayoral challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis made a similar promise to create incentives to reduce surface lots. Wasylycia-Leis did not provide any details about how her plan would work.
Both Wasylycia-Leis and Katz say they want to use proceeds from the $24-million sale of the Winnipeg Square Parkade to repair the city's Millennium Library and Civic Centre parkades and build new ones with commercial developments on the main floor.
Katz wants to build three, ideally as public-private partnerships. Wasylycia-Leis wants to allow the Winnipeg Parking Authority to build five parkades.
Wasylycia-Leis also pledged to not allow any new surface lots downtown, while Katz said the city has already halted the practice.
But downtown heritage buildings continue to be torn down, with council approval.