Canada Retroactive fund created to help Montreal retailers cope with construction

02:07  14 june  2018
02:07  14 june  2018 Source:

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Merchants affected by roadwork projects will be eligible for up to $30,000 per year under a new policy to help Montreal’s struggling retail arteries.

The city is creating a $25-million fund to compensate retailers coping with construction, Mayor Valérie Plante announced Wednesday.

The aid is part of a four-year, $74-million program to assist on-street stores facing a “perfect storm” of competition from online shopping, rising taxes, skyrocketing rents and an unprecedented level of road construction that hinders shopping.

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“The action plan that we are unveiling today is historic. For the first time, Montreal is recognizing storefront businesses as essential social links in the urban environment and as a priority for the metropolitan economy,” Plante said at a press conference on St-Denis St.

Merchants on St-Denis who endured 10 months of roadwork in 2016 are still eligible for aid, she noted, since the program for stores affected by construction is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2016.

The city plans to approve a bylaw in late summer and retailers will be able to apply for aid starting in the fall. To be eligible, the construction projects must have lasted at least six months and merchants must be able to demonstrate the work caused them to lose business.

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Infrastructure repairs aren’t the only problem the retail sector — which employs 112,000 people, nearly one in 10 of all jobs on the island of Montreal — is facing these days, according to a report released Monday by a committee of experts Plante created in March, under the leadership of Guy Cormier, president and CEO of Mouvement Desjardins.

“Business on our commercial arteries is going through profound transformations to which retailers must adapt, in particular in changing their business model,” the mayor noted.

The action plan for 2018-2022 also includes measures to enhance the city’s nightlife, beautify shopping streets and encourage short-term rentals in vacant storefronts rather than leaving them empty.

Plante also announced plans for a permanent committee on retail, to include both businesspeople and experts, to advise the city. The mandate of the PME MTL network, which provides advice and financing to entrepreneurs, will also be widened to include help for retailers and specialized expertise on attracting and retaining local businesses, she said.

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Cormier’s committee also recommended decreasing the tax burden on merchants by reducing the gap between residential and non-residential property tax rates, lowering rates on the first $500,000 of evaluation and allowing merchants to pay their taxes in six instalments.

Plante provided no specifics on how the city will follow up on those points, but said the city will “work to reduce the fiscal burden on merchants” and streamline paperwork to make it easier for them to navigate municipal bureaucracy and apply for assistance.

The mayor said the city will follow in the steps of Paris, Lyon, London and New York by creating a nightlife policy, which was one of her campaign promises.

“The nightlife policy will help protect cultural venues for arts and entertainment and alternative theatre venues, as well as boosting our commercial arteries,” she said.

Léopold Turgeon, the president and director of the Conseil québécois du commerce de détail, warmly praised the policy as long-awaited recognition of the importance of retailing, which he said accounts for one dollar out of three in the Quebec economy and pays one-third of municipal property taxes.

“For us, it’s really a historic moment,” he said, thanking the city administration and Cormier’s committee “for presenting encouraging perspectives for the commercial development of Montreal.”

However, the municipal opposition blasted the plan for lacking specifics on reducing the tax burden on retailers.

“Ask any Montreal merchant what is his main concern: he’ll tell you taxes are too high,” said Ensemble Montreal Leader Lionel Perez, noting that the city raised non-residential taxes by three per cent this year.

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