Helping Business Through the Briar Patch
Last week, NDP opposition MLA Gregor Robertson put forward a bill suggesting property tax breaks and emergency loans for Cambie Village merchants, and other business in Vancouver and Richmond along the Canada Line corridor.
It was met with a frosty response from the provincial government who fear the precedent in setting payout levels for infrastructure spending and other liability issues.
The federal and provincial governments, Translink, YVR and the City of Vancouver are all spending partners for Canada Line, which is aiming for a 2009 completion date, well in advance of 2010.
But the mess, disorder and delay caused by construction is a sensitive topic – and not just for government.
Business owners don’t want to raise too much fuss, as they fear it will further discourage shoppers from the area. Most, also, are supportive of rapid transit and feel strongly that the project will ultimately make our city a better place to live and do business.
Cambie Business Improvement Association’s Canada Line Construction Liaison, Leonard Schein told me that the BIA supported the property tax grant portion of Robertson’s bill but not the emergency loans.
Merchants along the construction zone have been patient as estimates for disruption in front of any one business escalated from three months to four months to twelve months. As time increases, it is more difficult for small business to manage, according the Schein.
Translink says that they are doing their bit with a million dollar ad campaign.
The City of Vancouver is offering up free parking at the City’s parking lots at Cambie and Yukon.
A retail consultant has been hired to give workshops to local business owners, with the goal of helping attract more shoppers along the chaotic construction corridor.
The reality is, though, losses have totalled some $100 million by mostly small, family-owned and operated businesses.
Now not all of those would have thrived anyway, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that a big, gaping tunnel in the middle of the street, confusing traffic patterns and the dust and noise from heavy equipment might deter weekend and other pleasure shoppers.
Schein admits that businesses close down for lots of reasons. “Any commercial area has vacancies, but people here aren’t making money and their ability to hang on depends on how deep their pockets are.”
Estimates of property tax relief range from $1 million to cover the hard-hit Cambie Village to $10 million for the entire line from Richmond to Vancouver.
Robertson’s well intentioned bill, modelled after a similar situation in Washington State, won’t likely see the light of day. Hopefully, however, the spending partners can find some solution for businesses carrying the bulk of the construction pain.