Friday, 18 February 2011

Edmonton City offers developers cash incentives to create mixed use hubs


Edmonton is using hard cash to convince investors to build mixed-use residential and retail in the city core and around transit hubs. The deal can total $12,000 per unit created, in a direct payment to the developer, if they build low-rise residential with storefronts, and $7,000 per apartment if the building is purely residential. The units can be market rentals or condominiums.

The little-known program is aimed at seven older neighbourhoods in or on the fringe of the downtown, including Alberta Avenue, Beverley, Chinatown, Little Italy, Old Strathcona and Stony Plain. The program was launched a year ago but it took six months for it to roll out. An approved developer has one year to present expenses to the city, which then issues a cheque to cover the incentive. For a 36-unit mixed-use project, the maximum allowed, a developer could pocket $432,000!

In the past eight months, only three applications have come forward, totaling 40 units of housing and none have been approved. This means that under the $2 million program, at least $1.5 million remains to be applied for.

Looking at the neighbourhoods, the Old Strathcona area looks like the best bet because it is close to all three post-secondary campuses, including two universities. It is also an historic shopping and entertainment district. However, there are only one or two sites available that would work with the city incentives.

So far, the applications - none are approved yet - are for a two-unit project and two 18-unit mixed use projects in Chinatown and Little Italy. There are also incentives for building retail in the targeted neighbourhoods.

For this improving an existing, vacant retail building, the city offers a grant up to 50% of construction costs to a maximum amount of $15,000 per building.

For those building new retail or commercial space, the city grant is equal to 5% of the total construction value to a maximum amount of $40,000 per building. For information on the incentives, contact Iris Li of the Edmonton Development Incentive Program. Phone 780-495-0977 or email

The city is also promoting new commercial construction in the Quarters area on the eastern fringe of the downtown, which is now mostly parking lots. In the Quarters, the city has waived ALL parking requirements, reduced development cost charges and provided bonuses such as zero-lot lines for retail and residential developers who build "architecturally attractive, LEED standard" buildings. So far, the incentives have attracted a new $40 million Hilton Hotel, which starts this year; and a proposal for a twin-30-storey tower, 200-unit condo complex where one-third of the units will be non-market housing. A Calgary developer is also looking at refurbishing the old York Hotel into market housing,

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