New downtown action plan proposes strategies to create $1.3B annual economic benefit

Published on:
May 22, 2024
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A new report from the Ottawa Board of Trade sets out an actionable path forward for the downtown and the next challenge will be implementation, said president and CEO Sueling Ching.

“We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a plan that just sat on a shelf, that it got moved forward,” she told OBJ after the launch of the report at City Hall on Wednesday. “The next step for us is to identify what we’re calling a leadership or champions table and that group will be tasked with implementing the plan and also tracking it and communicating it back.”

The Downtown Ottawa Action Agenda has a timeline of five years to implement its first items. It calls for actions that will result in annual economic benefits of more than $1.3 billion, versus a “do-nothing” annual loss of property taxes and other payments of at least $62 million.

According to the report, developed in collaboration with the Canadian Urban Institute, the $1.3 billion would come from an annual revenue increase of $1.2 billion in new local spending, and more than $133 million in annual property tax revenues.


“What happens in our downtown has a direct and immediate impact on every business, resident and visitor,” said Ching. “Our post-COVID world is very different from what we know and rely on. We will not go back to the way it was. This is the time for diversification and transformation … This is an all-hands-on-deck situation.”

Ching, who has been working on the report with her collaborators for a year, said she’s “elated” to have the final report out to the public.

“I feel excited,” she said. “We’ve been working hard on this and I’ve been saying I can’t remember the details of what we’ve actually put together because there have been so many conversations. We’ve done deep, deep consultation on this action plan and I’m really excited to see how everyone can see themselves in it and that we can start to move forward and execute.”

The plan proposes implementing the economic development principle “import replacement,” said Mary Rowe, president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, to the crowd during the launch.

“(Downtown Ottawa) used to import a lot of workers,” she said. “Now you’re going to replace them with people who are living here. They may not work here. They may work somewhere else, they may walk to work, they may work from their desk, but they’re going to live here.”

The report calls for the addition of 40,000 new residents and the creation of 50,000 jobs by 2034, “transforming the cityscape into a bustling hub of activity and innovation.”

The plan also proposes a joint $500-million fund to kickstart “a series of catalytic projects,” including significant enhancements to the public realms of Sparks Street and ByWard Market and the establishment of a new business incubation district and an arts/culture corridor.

The $500 million is “based on an aspirational goal to fund initiatives underway and new actions required for the implementation of this action agenda. The source of funding is intended to include all levels of government, institutional, private sector and others,” according to the report.

Rowe said it was an ambitious but achievable plan, one that needed extensive support from local stakeholders, including business leaders, investors and government officials at all levels.

“I feel like I’m preaching to the converted here, but that’s okay, because we have a lot of people to convince,” she said. “That’s fine, because you have a really strong value proposition.”

She added that in her work, she’s witnessed how resilient and tenacious cities can be.

“In New Orleans, after (Hurricane) Katrina, there was a two- or three-year period where people were saying, ‘Don’t worry, the cavalry is coming.’ And then in 2008, people realized, ‘We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for’ … You’re in that position now. The federal government was your tenant for life and now all of that is changing in all sorts of really opportunistic, positive ways.”

Ching said there are many stakeholders to please and much red tape to cut through, but she believes people and organizations are willing to step up to the plate.

“I think part of it will be the fact that we, as a business organization, have stood up and declared and called on our business community to get involved,” she said. “We feel a sense from the business community that they want to be involved.”

She added, “We’ve identified the priorities of some of the stakeholders and put that all together in one action plan. We feel as though we’ve done it in a way that there is, not a total buy-in, but a foundation for working together and moving forward.”

The City of Ottawa is one key player in the implementation of the plan. Mayor Mark Sutcliffe said he recognized that revitalizing downtown is an “enormous” task, and encouraged all attendees to be part of the solution.

“Our greatest challenge at the moment is addressing the downtown core,” said Sutcliffe. “We know what’s going on. I don’t have to tell you what we’re facing. I see an unprecedented threat and risk, and I see it as a historic opportunity … We are being called upon now as the leaders of this community to capitalize on that and turn it into an opportunity.”

The report identified five immediate actions:
  1. Prioritize housing: Streamline processes to increase downtown residency through higher density and use of public land.
  2. Invest in the future: Establish financial mechanisms for ongoing downtown investment.
  3. Address homelessness, addiction, and mental health: Implement focused programs with multi-level government funding.
  4. Improve regional mobility: Enhance transit options to make downtown more accessible.
  5. Position downtown nationally and internationally: Marketing efforts to boost economic activity and enhance downtown’s image.
  6. The action plan was developed by the Canadian Urban Institute, in partnership with the City of Ottawa, Ottawa Tourism, Invest Ottawa, BOMA Ottawa and the National Capital Commission.


Source: Ottawa Business Journal

Author: Mia Jensen