Using CRL to fund office conversions seen as a gamble

Using CRL to fund office conversions seen as a gamble

City council's urban planning committee has signalled an interest in using the downtown community revitalization levy to subsidize office tower conversions, a suggestion Taproot's city hall watchers expressed concerns about.

The committee voted 4-1 on Oct. 31 to commission a report, due next spring, on how the CRL could be used to incentivize conversions.

"It seems sensible to do that, but the downtown CRL is not new, is the first problem," said co-host Mack Male on Episode 240 of Speaking Municipally. "And the second problem is that we've already assigned funding for that downtown CRL to a whole bunch of other things which would have to wait or get bumped in order to fund this office conversion program."

Two of the more notable projects that could be impacted by a funding redirection are the Green and Walkable Downtown and Warehouse Park projects. The latter will add just over three football fields of green space to the downtown core, which is already seen as an incentive to residential development, said co-host Troy Pavlek.

Advocacy groups such as the Urban Development Institute — Edmonton Metro and the Downtown Recovery Coalition want to see the city invest $100 million into the project to incentivize developers to turn unused office buildings into multi-unit homes.

"It's a bet: the CRL has to pay off — your investments have to pay off — for it to work. The city report noted that these office tower conversions are unlikely to pay off within 100 or so years," Pavlek said, citing the city's report.

Coun. Erin Rutherford was the only committee member to oppose the motion. She raised public perception as a reason to not move forward, referring to speculation that the zoning bylaw renewal gave developers too much.

Male said that while he doesn't see perception as being the biggest issue, it is important that if this project moves forward, it's with a requirement for multiple unit types, rather than just studio or one-bedroom suites.

"If we want to have more vibrancy downtown, we need more people to live there," Male said. "So if we did go ahead with a program like this, a really strong argument needs to be made that that's going to come to fruition in a reasonable amount of time, and probably with some rules around it."

Get more details on the office conversion proposal plus the latest on downtown pedestrianization efforts, a new developer in Blatchford, and much more in the Nov. 3 episode of Speaking Municipally.

Photo: Sunset reflections on office buildings in downtown Edmonton. (Mack Male/Flickr)