A program of specific action on the part of government is required which will create the circumstances which will make Downtown as attractive to developers as the suburbs now are.
Some steps in this direction have already been taken. Perhaps the most significant was the re-zoning of land in the Downtown to permit much higher densities of apartment development than were previously permitted. Prior to 1968, the by-law required a minimum site area of 800 square feet for every suite contained in an apartment building. If one assumes that the average size of apartment dwelling is about 800 square feet, then the required ratio of site area to building floor space was 1:1.
The cost of land in the Downtown is relatively high, running between $7.00 and $8.00 per square foot in the area between Assiniboine and Graham Avenue and much higher for Portage Avenue properties, and is relatively insensitive to normal market influences. In this circumstance, the limitation on the building volume imposed by the zoning by-law made it economically not reasonable to develop Downtown property for apartment purposes: the cost of the land was simply too high in relation to the development which could be placed on it and the financial return which could be derived from it.
In the summer of 1968 the zoning by-law was amended to permit a floor ratio of 10 in apartment development (There has been no height limitation on office buildings in the Downtown since 1965). As a result of this amendment developers may now build ten times as much floor area on a given site as was possible before 1968, and development of Downtown sites for apartments is now feasible because the high cost of the land can be offset by the greater number of apartments that can be placed upon it. This amendment has obviously had a considerable influence in stirring a new interest in the development of apartments in the Downtown.
Another factor which may help to encourage investment in the Downtown is the proposed abatement of taxes on new construction for a given number of years. At the time of writing of this report, the Bill seeking these municipal powers has not yet been tabled, and the precise nature of the proposed legislation is not known. However, it seems clear that if the tax abatement powers are to apply exclusively to the Downtown, then this device could have an encouraging effect in attracting investment to the central area; if the powers are to apply to new construction anywhere in Metropolitan Winnipeg, then its effect will be to leave the Downtown in a situation unchanged from its present situation with respect to taxes there will be no advantages to developers to locate their projects Downtown.