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Schweitzer: We plan to revitalize downtown Calgary

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Doug Schweitzer For Lease signs are often seen on office buildings due to the high vacancy rate of office space in downtown Calgary. Doug Schweitzer, Alberta Secretary of Labor. Business and Innovation, the government says, is forming a task force and will lead the townhouses in the revitalization of downtown Calgary. Photo by Azin Ghaffari / Postmedia

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The University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy recently published a research study that found that downtown Calgary is experiencing a “vacancy crisis”. For those of us who call Calgary our home, this comes as no surprise.

Our once booming downtown core had been emptied for years before the COVID-19 pandemic. As more and more people are forced to work from home, many of the towers in downtown Calgary have essentially been closed. More specifically, the vacancy rate in downtown Calgary in 2014 was 6.1 percent. The fast forward to the end of 2020 has increased to almost 30 percent.

Rightly or wrongly, a thriving downtown core is sending a signal to the Calgarians, our industry, and outside investors that you want to do business in Alberta.

The Alberta government understands this. We have listened to the Calgarians and worked with industry to ensure Alberta remains one of the best places in the world to invest and innovate. That’s why we’ve tirelessly invested and implemented business-friendly policies to create an environment that helps the industry thrive.

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We accelerated the job creation tax cut to bring Albertans the lowest corporate taxes in Canada – one of the lowest tax countries in North America. We went from having the worst business paperwork record in Canada to one of the top marks in less than two years. Our innovation grant is the most competitive technology investment incentive in the country. We also recapitalized Alberta Enterprise Corporation at a $ 175 million markup to facilitate venture capital investments. These are measures the Alberta government has taken to attract job creating investment.

We have accelerated work to critically protect our inner city from future floods. The Springbank Offspring Reservoir project, whose public hearings are due to begin this month, is an example of the work we are doing to protect our urban core. This includes Alberta’s pledge to provide $ 196.3 million to build this project.

We see signs of growth and diversification in our economy. Last month, Vancouver-based mCloud Technologies announced it was moving its headquarters to Calgary to double its workforce in Alberta. Last year was also a record year for venture capital in Calgary. Numerous companies including Helcim, Symend, Attabotics, and Neo Financial hired hundreds of Calgarians in our emerging technology space.

I have been fortunate to have worked as a minister with as many in the Calgary community, the private sector, and the Prime Minister’s office over the past few months as we can face the challenges downtown. While there is cause for hope, there is still much to be done. That’s why the Alberta government is setting up a task force to educate community leaders, industry, community officials, and anyone else who calls this city their home about the future of downtown Calgary.

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Calgary is not the first major city to rebuild its inner city. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis, Austin – these cities have all successfully rebuilt their downtown cores to become busy business drivers. We saw this in Vancouver in the 1980s and closer to home we saw it in Calgary’s East Village.

The challenge for downtown Calgary is not an easy one, but we will rise together. It takes the collaboration and ideas of our entire community to find the necessary solutions. During the spring and summer, look for townhouses and other options to see how we can make sure we have a vibrant and thriving downtown area. We all want Calgary to be successful, so let’s help it succeed together.

If you have any ideas or thoughts about revitalizing Calgary’s downtown area, we want to hear from you. Please send an email to JEI.MinisterOffice@gov.ab.ca.

Doug Schweitzer is Alberta’s Minister for Employment, Business and Innovation.

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