The City of Airdrie is exploring the possibility of applying for the Alberta government's Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) to help fund its rejuvenation of downtown.
According to alberta.ca, CRLs allow municipalities to “borrow against future property tax revenues to help pay for infrastructure required to spur new development in a specific area.” The completion of improved infrastructure like new roads, wastewater system upgrades or municipal buildings helps attract private investment and increase property values.
At a regular Airdrie City council meeting Oct. 5, Community Growth Manager Stephen Utz outlined how a CRL can help increase a municipality’s property assessments and commercial tax revenue.
“Essentially, what it does is allow for an area that is perhaps not as well developed as would be desired, but has a lot of potential for development, to be supported in its redevelopment through redirecting provincial and municipal revenue from incremental increases in the assessed value as a result of making certain improvements,” he said.
“So, you have an area you think would do well, if only it had certain elements or pieces of infrastructure in place, and you finance them through this tool.”
Creating a more vibrant downtown is one of City council’s strategic priorities and public feedback garnered through the Downtown and Economic Strategy Visioning consultations in 2018 revealed residents feel it is necessary.
Applying for a CRL requires the approval of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Examples of successful CRLs include the City of Calgary’s overhaul of its Rivers District in 2008 and the City of Edmonton’s downtown revitalization in 2013.
Utz noted the government has not approved any CRL applications in seven years.
“In Alberta, all the adopted CRLs happened between 2008 and 2013,” he said. “This has not necessarily been an approach that has been used or authorized, that often or at all, since that time.”
But Utz said Airdrie’s current downtown has characteristics that could help make for a successful application, such as the number of vacant or underdeveloped properties and recent servicing upgrades on Main Street.
Comparing Airdrie with a community of a similar size, Utz used Cochrane as an example of a municipality that has successfully used CRLs to spur new commercial development. According to Utz, the Town of Cochrane successfully applied for the levy in 2012.
“At that time, [Cochrane’s CRL area] included much of an area that would include big box stores,” he said. “A lot of the land was vacant, some of it was contaminated and there was relatively low baseline revenue.”
After successfully applying for a CRL, Utz said, the Town of Cochrane was able to increase the total assessed property value in the development area from $5.2 million to $126.7 million. The area’s tax revenue increased from $19.1 million to $24.8 million, while the various construction projects in the vicinity created 550 jobs.
“Some of the benefits Cochrane has received from this CRL [include] over 500,000 square feet of non-residential development – primarily big-box retail – which helped that community keep some of the dollars that were leaking out into other communities for some of those types of purchases,” he said.
Utz noted that if Airdrie is granted the ability to apply for a CRL, a public consultation and education process would be required, as would cost estimates for any desired infrastructure, a review of historical resources, survey work and technical analysis.
Council ultimately voted unanimously in favour of sending an exploratory letter to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs requesting the reinstatement of CRL approvals under the Municipal Government Act.
“I think any point we could get an edge or spark some change as far as redevelopment goes in the city, that’s an excellent option to explore,” Coun. Candice Kolson said. “It’s nice to see we’re all working toward making some of those areas a little bit better and brighter. I hope the review goes forward and we’re able to take advantage of some of that.”