Empty storefronts still eyesore on Queen East year after rebate axed
A year after the city scrapped a rebate program for vacant commercial properties, boarded-up storefronts still dot the streetscape along Queen Street East in The Beach.
Retail spaces that the city hoped would be filled with new, vibrant tenants once the landlords were no longer being subsidized continue to sit empty.
“It’s definitely not what people want to see on Queen Street or any of those main streets, for that matter,” Toronto city councillor for the area Brad Bradford told CTV News Toronto.
City staff doesn’t have specific data on whether the number of vacant storefronts has decreased since the cancellation of the vacant property rebate, which up until July 1, 2018 allowed commercial property owners to receive a tax subsidy on empty properties.
The program was introduced in 2001 to help struggling businesses, but critics believed it disincentivized finding tenants.
It also cost the city $367 million in the first 12 years.
The Beach’s commercial vacancy rate has decreased slightly in the last year, according to the local business improvement area, though they don’t know whether it’s a direct result of the rebate cancellation. They argue there is still much more to be done.
Bradford is launching a campaign to improve the vibrancy of east-end main streets, and believes the commercial tax rate burdens business owners.
“It's no secret that in Toronto we have a significant commercial tax rate and whether you are the property owner, the landlord, or somebody leasing the space, that has to be paid,” he said.
The BIA, which is developing a business recruitment strategy to bring more retail to the area, agrees that the city’s commercial taxes are a factor.
The city has been working to bring down the commercial tax rate, said Revenue Services Director Casey Brendon, pointing out that the annual increase is less than the residential tax hike.
But the rate hasn’t decreased quickly enough to keep some businesses afloat.
“At the end of the day, leasing is just math,” said Bradford.