Maple Ridge eyes commercial projects

Incentives for new condominiums in Maple Ridge's downtown core wraps up this December

The  downtown  incentive  plan sparked  $77 million in new  construction.

The downtown incentive plan sparked $77 million in new construction.

The Downtown Incentive Plan has done its job, sparking $77 million in new construction.

Now Maple Ridge council wants to see if it can focus on kickstarting some commercial projects.

A report suggests that council tweak the rules, allowing continuation of downtown incentives for commercial development, but letting the package of cash grants, fee reductions and tax exemptions for residential condo buildings expire at the end of 2013.

Maple Ridge’s strategy has been “very successful,” Laura Benson, manager of corporate planning, told council Monday.

Because of the incentives, more than 1,000 condos or apartments have been built or started in the downtown.

The strategy includes a component to entice commercial developments, such as malls or stores, which staff recommended be extended for a year, once the district completes its Commercial and Industrial Strategy this fall.

Once that is in place, a new job-creation strategy will be created to replace the incentives.

Coun. Al Hogarth asked for exact numbers on the boost in property tax revenue that downtown growth will give the district.

“After 2016, we’ll see some large revenues coming into the district. Let’s see what the results are of what we’ve done and then see where we can go next.”

Under the incentive program, which was in place for three years, developers or property owners were exempt from paying the higher property taxes, resulting from improvements to the property.

According to a staff report, property tax revenue is below budget targets, partly because of the exemptions and partly because of the sluggish economy.

On the other hand, downtown is “thriving” with “an enhanced business climate,” as population density grows, the report says.

Hogarth said Maple Ridge has most of what high-tech companies need when looking to relocate.

“I think we’ve advanced substantially.”

Council looked at measures in place in other cities, such as in Surrey, where clean-energy companies are given property tax exemptions for three years, building permit fees are cut by half and business licences cut to $1 for three years.

Surrey’s also created an “Innovation Boulevard” to spur growth in the health technology field.

In Sault St. Marie, Ont., property tax breaks are provided on investments of more than $1 million.

Staff searched for other examples of incentives.

In the resort of Miniota, Man., an isolated historic town of 900 off the Trans Canada Highway, halfway between Regina and Winnipeg, newcomers and new homeowners get a $1,500 annual discount on their property taxes for two years. New businesses get a $2,500 break on their taxes.

In Maui, Hawaii, businesses that set up in an “enterprise zone” get tax breaks if they increase their employment by 10 per cent in one year.

However, Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin pointed out some that some companies take advantage of tax breaks, then leave once they expire.


Grants kickstart renovations

It’s not a bad return on investment. Offer $50,000 in facade improvement grants in the downtown.

Then spin that into $1.5-million in storefront upgrades and spruce-ups.

That’s how the grant program worked for the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association, Maple Ridge Mayor Ernie Daykin told council Monday.

The BIA’s facade-improvement program offers downtown businesses grants, up to a maximum of $10,000, with renovating their store fronts.

In 2011, the BIA gave out $50,000 for such purposes. That in turn, produced a total value of $2.9 million in renovations for eight businesses, including $2.7-million worth of renovations to Haney Place Mall.

In 2012, the same amount was given out, $50,000 which was used to spark almost$900,000 in storefront improvements at 15 businesses.