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‘Oversight’: No cash in proposed 2022 budget for Calgary downtown plan

Ward 14 Coun. Peter Demong said he was “taken aback” that Calgary city council hadn’t considered further funding for the downtown strategy beyond last year’s commitment.

The question came up Monday as councillors got their first look at upcoming 2022 budget adjustments.

“Maybe it’s my mistaken memory, but I thought we had moved towards the 10-year downtown strategy with a $45 million fund, so to speak, on an annual basis,” Demong asked administration.  

“If I’m correct, why wasn’t this put into the budget?”

At the end of April, Calgary city council approved the Greater Downtown strategy, and with it an initial $200 million investment.

Stuart Dalgleish, GM of Planning and Development said they outlined a $450 million incentive strategy in April. They also foresaw $500 million in capital for downtown upgrades.

“At the time, we only had the funds available to us to be able to make an initial investment for the first year $45 million dollars in the incentive program and $50 million in capital,” Dalgleish said.

“We believe that we needed to move quickly, get going on year one, and be able to come back to council…”

Dalgleish said a phase two portion is coming to council later this year.

Demong said he recognized the initial funding was one time, but they approved a 10-year strategy.

“Which strikes me as odd that we wouldn’t have it as an option going into this budget, that that money would be set aside or at least considered,” he said.

“I’m a little taken aback that it’s not in the budget.”

Oversight: Mayor Jyoti Gondek

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said councillors asked pointed questions on the lack of further downtown funding.

“I think that was perhaps an oversight of the last council,” Mayor Gondek told media after Monday’s initial budget discussion.

“It’s always hard to set financial direction in the middle of a campaign, which is what we were doing when the downtown revitalization strategy came to us.”

Gondek said council could look at adding that money into the budget. That could have an impact on the tax rate depending on the funding source.

Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said to execute a plan of this magnitude, you need year-over-year funding. He said that might be best left for the next four-year budget cycle.

“And you live between now and then off the one-time funding that you have,” he said.

The province has set up a downtown working group to look at additional solutions to help. They are reviewing Calgary’s plan as a part of that work. 

While a portion of the downtown investment may be funded by Calgary taxpayers, Carra said they can leverage that money into additional added cash from other sources.  

“This is going to take a while to get to that sort of place. But I think that we’re going to have to start making those investments,” he said.

“As I tell everyone, you’re going to see a preview of the movie this budget debate, and then you’re going to see the movie next year.”

City council will continue budget conversations between Nov. 22 and 26.