City of Calgary prepares additional COVID-19 business relief

As businesses prepare to reopen as part of Alberta's plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions, the City of Calgary has developed a grant program and tax deferrals for businesses heavily impacted by the pandemic. Adam MacVicar reports.

Alberta is set to begin the first stage in its multi-phase reopening plan, and the City of Calgary is ready to roll out relief for businesses that have faced the brunt of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday afternoon, Calgary city council approved $15.9 million in supports, including deferring 2021 property taxes to the end of 2022 and offering reopening grants for a variety of types of businesses especially-hard hit by the pandemic.

Up to $9.5 million would be set aside to create a grant program for restaurants, pubs, bars, entertainment establishments including nightclubs and music venues, and fitness centres to help with reopening efforts.

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Council decided on a trio of reopening grants to help different business categories: fitness facilities, entertainment establishments, and restaurants, pubs and bars.

Following a unanimous decision to roll out the support, the handful of entertainment establishments — who haven’t been able to open during the pandemic — are eligible for up to $500,000. A maximum of $3 million has been earmarked for fitness facilities.

Businesses can begin applying for grants from July 2 through August 10 or until funds are exhausted, and will be distributed on a first come, first-served basis.

City manager David Duckworth told council the goal behind the program was to keep it as simple and efficient as possible.

“It’s definitely not going to make up for all the loss, but even in terms of the federal and provincial programs, it’s not as much as them but it is important,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday.

“For a lot of these small businesses, that little bit will help them with their relaunch costs.”

At Free House Beer and Food Hall in Kensington, preparations are underway to reopen next week.

The establishment initially opened one month before the pandemic and has been closed for most of the months since.

“During most of the closures, we just shut down, and we tried to open two or three times before this has come up, so we’re really excited to have people back in the building,” said Megan Sereda with Free House.

Free House is currently in the process of rehiring staff and deep cleaning the restaurant.

According to Sereda, the restaurant has taken advantage of support funding in the past to help with rent and will apply for the city’s grant to purchase tables for outdoor dining. Indoor dining remains prohibited as part of the first stage of the provincial reopening.

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Under the criteria for the grant, businesses must submit the nature of business and demonstration of need, such as closures due to the pandemic.

“We’re not going to ask you what you’re going to do with it, (but it’s) to help with your reopening and relaunch costs,” Nenshi said.

The city is also setting aside up to $2.9 million to allow for hotels and motels to apply for a 2021 tax deferral.

According to the Alberta Hotels and Lodging Association, the industry has seen up to an 80 per cent reduction in business due to the pandemic.

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“I don’t think many of us ever anticipated that we might actually see what we call dark nights, which would be zero per cent occupancy,” Country Inn & Suites general manager Leanne Shaw said. “That’s almost unheard of in Calgary.”

Although the provincial reopening plan is creating optimism for those in the industry, Shaw said it’s estimated that returning to pre-pandemic levels of business may take until 2024.

“A deferral is certainly helpful. I mean, that’s money that’s not coming out,” Shaw said. “It’s been sort of shown across our industry that without that cash flow, that’s when you run the risk. The liquidity for hotels is critical.”

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According to the city, hotels and motels can only apply for a deferral if their 2020 property taxes are fully paid.

The grant program and tax deferral are the latest efforts from the city to provide relief to businesses struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March, $30 million was allocated from the city for relief to businesses impacted by COVID-19. According to the city, $17.6 million of that funding was used to waive business licensing and related fees for 2021 and 2022.

The remaining $12.4 million is expected to cover both the grant program and tax deferral.

If approved by council, applications for grants would open on July 2.

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