Glebe businesses blame rising rent as more chains move in

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'No easy solutions' to changing retail landscape, councillor says

A letter on the door of this closed sushi restaurant on Bank Street in the Glebe shows the owner was in arrears.

A letter on the door of this closed sushi restaurant on Bank Street in the Glebe shows the owner was in arrears. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

By CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning, CBC News

Independent business owners in the Glebe are worried that rising rents for retail properties are squeezing stores like theirs out of the neighbourhood, making room for more chain stores that can afford expensive leases.

Gilbert Russell, owner of Brio Bodywear on Bank Street just south of Clarey Avenue, fears that could become a trend that changes the character of the Glebe.

Some Glebe businesses aren't happy with the recent arrivial of McDonald's at the corner of Bank and Fifth. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

"As long as these rents stay high, the only people that can afford it is somebody that has deep pockets because they've got multiple stores, they can stand to lose money on that store, but unfortunately it changes the complexion of the neighbourhood," said Russell.

He points to the McDonald's that recently opened at Bank and Fifth Avenue as an example.

"It doesn't add to anything. Having another business that draws people is beneficial. Having something that doesn't draw people that's generic isn't beneficial. They're not going to come in just to come down to the McDonald's at Bank and Fifth," he said.

"So it's really sort of the absence of that other impact. And at some point if the ecosystem isn't supportive for an independent business, independent businesses leave. If it becomes a fast food strip, it becomes a chain strip."

'They don't stop'

Although the renewed Lansdowne Park and its major events like football games and concerts draw people to Bank Street in the Glebe, Russell doesn't believe they spend enough time visiting independent businesses there, and Miriam Rangel agrees.

"I just feel the people from the Glebe, from the neighbourhood, feel kind of discouraged to leave home sometimes because during the events, hundreds of people pass by, but they don't stop," said Rangel, owner of Cafe Morala, on Bank near First Avenue.

As a result, visitors stop at chain stores and restaurants they know, and Capital Ward Coun. David Chernushenko recognizes this can be a problem for smaller businesses.

"There's nothing we can do or should do to prevent them [chains] from opening. What we should be doing is encouraging the kind of things that would have the independent business owner and the people that come to them want to be there," he said.

Councillors vote to discontinue expensive tax break for owners of vacant commercial property

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Last year the provincial program cost the city $17 million.

Haley Ritchie, Metro

City councillors voted today to end a property-tax break enjoyed by landlords whose buildings have vacancies.

Last year commercial and industrial property owners in Ottawa submitted 920 applications for the rebate. The cost to municipal taxpayers was $17 million.

City staff had recommended that the program, which until recently was mandated by the Ontario government, be phased out over three years in order to give property owners time to adjust.

At Tuesday's meeting of the city’s finance and economic development committee, however, councillors voted to end the rebate program in 2018.

Property owners who benefit from the program were disappointed.

Dean Karakasi, representing the Building Owners and Managers Association, said the change “will have a negative impact on industry.”

Karakasi said property owners are struggling because of federal-government cutbacks and the ongoing rise of online retailers, whose businesses require relatively little commercial space.

“This is not a good time in terms of industry,” said Karakasi. “This was a nice partnership with the city in terms of transitioning space.”

Several people presenting to the committee expressed hope that the end of the program will motivate landlords to find tenants for vacant properties.

Coun. David Chernushenko said landlords in some areas are being too choosy with tenants, to the “overall detriment to the street health of the retail environment.”

Karakasi said the idea that landlords are forgoing leases so as to realize a 30 per cent of their tax break is “absurd.”

“It may happen, there may be examples, but we can’t quantify them,” he said. “But, overall, why would anybody want to pay a dollar so they get 30 cents back?”

Other Ontario municipalities, including Toronto and Prince Edward County, plan to cut the rebate program as well.

The final decision on the program will be made at city council on May 10.

Ottawa finance committee votes to kill vacancy rebate over two years

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Jon Willing, Ottawa Citizen

The finance and economic development committee voted Tuesday to accelerate the cancellation of a commercial and industrial vacancy rebate beyond what the city treasury department recommends.

The committee backed a motion from Coun. Stephen Blais to kill the vacancy rebate over two years, rather than three years, to mirror what the City of Toronto is doing.

“We’re obviously disappointed that they would make that change,” said Dean Karakasis, executive director of Building Owners and Managers Association of Ottawa.

“We weren’t overly supportive of the original report. We still seem to be running into the same issue here of ignoring what this program was all about.”

Phasing out the vacancy-rebate program over two years would mean the city can stop budgeting $6.9 million for tax breaks in 2019. The money would be freed up for other city programs.

One man, however, is urging council to reinvest the money in small business.

Joshua Thatcher, store team leader at Whole Foods, said the money should be invested in local entrepreneurs during their startup phases. Those successful startups could then fill commercial real-estate vacancies, he said.

Today, property owners can claim a 30 per cent tax break for commercial land and a 35 per cent tax break for industrial land if parts of the buildings are vacant for 90 consecutive days.

Council approves contentious Glebe retirement home, despite Mayor dissent

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Eight storeys on traditional main street ‘not good planning’: Watson

By Jennifer McIntosh, Ottawa Community News

Despite concerns from the local councillor and Mayor Jim Watson, a proposed retirement home on Bank Street in the Glebe received overwhelming support from council on April 26.

Capital Coun. David Chernushenko said he supports the use, but not the height.

The city’s traditional main street policy — which is the designation for 890, 900 Bank St. at Holmwood Avenue — says that a building on streets with that designation shouldn’t be more than six storeys.

Watson said he wasn’t against height in principle, but argued the area already faces problems with congestion due to nearby Lansdowne.

Chernushenko said the Lansdowne development was not meant to be used as a precedent, but planning staff rationale for approval is the nearby taller buildings.

“We wouldn’t want people who had been opposed to Lansdowne to be able to say I told you so,” he said.