Victoria mayor seeks economic resurrection downtown

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins are looking into ways to spur economic development in their communities.

Esquimalt and Victoria are eyeing major plans to spur on economic development.

Following the lead of Langford, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps is considering tax exemptions for property owners downtown, while Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said Esquimalt is ahead of the curve.

Esquimalt is looking into policy options to encourage business and new development align Esquimalt Road, she said.

“We completed our economic development strategy last fall, and one of the things that has been identified and is already being worked on is that tax revitalization strategy for Esquimalt Road.”

Desjardins said there is not a clearly defined plan yet, but it could involve a combination of tax deferrals and fee reductions.

“Those are the things that are within our powers, and so those are the things that we’re looking at,” she said. “Within the community charter, there’s only so much we can do.”

Esquimalt council has already discussed what a future policy might look like, and decisions will be made from budget discussions in February and March, said Desjardins.

“We’re hearing very clearly that Esquimalt Road needs an upgrade. There needs to be an attraction of new people to the community,” she said. “You need more people in order to provide more opportunity for more business.”

Besides looking into tax exemptions for property owners, Helps said she would also like to look into simpler strategies such as improving public spaces downtown.

“I think we need to work with the [Downtown Victoria Business Association] and others to say, what capital expenditures could the city make that would have a big difference in making the public realm more welcoming, more vibrant,” said Helps.

“I think we can make some small changes that have a big impact while we’re looking for those longer term, more complicated things like tax exemptions.”

While her initial feeling is to start with a revitalization of Government Street, Helps said that is not her only focus.

“I shared one idea, which became the idea, which is never the intention,” she said, of her plan to look at tax exemptions on Government Street.

“I’m going to look to our staff and business leaders and community leaders in the downtown to say, what are the areas that need the most care and attention?”

No matter what area council decides to focus on, Helps said a plan needs to be put in place to stimulate economic revitalization in the city.

“One of the things I’m not going to be ok with is if we just sit around and talk about it forever,” she said. “Now is the time for taking action to create prosperity in our downtown.”