City hoping bylaw spurs downtown renos

The grand vision of rejuvenating downtown Trail is not only a task for the city but also people and local businesses.

The grand vision of rejuvenating downtown Trail is not only a task for the city but also people and local businesses.

To that end, the city is taking a big step in making it financially feasible for businesses and property owners to get on board by crafting a Downtown Economic Incentive Bylaw.

The goal of the bylaw is to offer tax incentives to property owners in an effort to entice them into fixing up buildings in the downtown region.

“We’re really excited about this,” said councillor Kevin Jolly, the city’s representative and former chair on the Downtown Opportunities and Action Planning Committee (DOACP).

He explained tax increases following improvements to a building were often a deterrent for many owners.

“We used to have lots of absentee owners,” explained Jolly. “Folks didn’t want to see assessments go up because it would make their tax value go up and it would increase their annual property tax. And they weren’t able to increase rents to offset that.

“The way we’re setting up this bylaw is that you won’t have your taxes go up but your assessment and property value will go up.”

In a nutshell, the bylaw would allow tax exemptions from 100 per cent, in the first six years, and progressively smaller breaks over the years until full taxation is implemented in the 11th year.

The exemption would be solely for renovations exceeding $10,000.

The initial exemption was suggested to be at $20,000 worth of construction but Jolly said council preferred lowering that amount to $10,000, “to make it more inclusive.”

The exemption would exclude single or two-family dwellings, he added.

“This is really targeted at the business community and large-scale property owners.”

The bylaw would cover the downtown area, which also includes the Gulch and the East Trail business district, which encompasses the immediate block by Safeway.

“We considered doing the whole area but then you lose the impact on redeveloping the downtown. We want to be concentrated in our efforts and innovation.”

However, Jolly didn’t rule out expanding the bylaw to other areas in the future should the initial incentive prove successful.

The bylaw grew from the implementation of the Trail Downtown Plan.

Members of council and the DOACP heard a presentation last month, which described the changes in Prince George and how it helped revitalize its downtown.

The city incorporated a development property tax incentive, which prompted one developer to begin a $40 million complex in the downtown region.

“Without (the tax incentive), I don’t think we’d do it,” developer Rod McLeod told the Prince George Citizen last spring. “It made the project viable.”

The project is expected to created over 100 permanent jobs not including the man-hours involved in the construction.

Prince George Chamber of Commerce CEO Jennifer Brandle-McCall said the first bylaw and subsequent alterations, along with other incentive programs have been some of main catalysts that has brought life to its downtown.

“The entrepreneurs feel they are being supported by the city and the city is doing all they can to make it as easy as possible for them to locate downtown. That combination has really been positive.”

Jolly said that success only fuelled he need to have similar incentives in Trail.

“We were intrigued at what they did,” he said. “So we took some of the things they did and fit those changes to suit our plan.”

Suggestions were presented by the MMM Group and council also amended a few components to help craft the final bylaw proposal.

Making a 10-year tax exemption plan is a critical part of the bylaw, explained Jolly.

“That, I believe, is critical from a financial perspective. It’s certainly more attractive to financiers, when they’re financing a development, to see that there’s a cost that is deferred for up to 10 years.”

Jolly said there is already signs of improvements happening in the downtown region and he’s hoping the bylaw will add to that momentum.

“If you look around there has been some improvements already taking place.”

The aim is to have the bylaw going to a vote in council at the second meeting in November and soon as it is passed.