Photo by Eagleclaw Thom
Close your eyes and picture a vibrant community streetscape. A place where you would want to live, work, play and maybe even spend your hard-earned money. Are you imagining...a luxury car dealership?
Yet, this is exactly what Mark Motors argued constitutes a dynamic community space last week in front of the Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO).
Members of the Mrak family, who own Mark Motors, were making the pitch for their development of a new Porsche showroom on Montreal Road. FEDCO ultimately approved a nearly $3 million grant for the project, despite this questionable interpretation of how the dealership will serve the Vanier community.
The grant, which will be considered for approval at City Council this Wednesday, is being offered as part of the Montreal Road Community Improvement Plan (CIP).
According to official documentation for the CIP, its purpose is to “build on the existing strengths and diversity” in Vanier. The report notes that the affordability of the neighbourhood has attracted many “artists, artistic and cultural organizations, social enterprises, not-for-profit organizations and unique entrepreneurs” to Montreal Road, making it “one of the most distinct and dynamic streets in Ottawa.”
Indeed, Vanier is home to many well-loved small businesses, independent restaurants and services that the community relies upon.
A new luxury car dealership is not representative of what even the City itself recognizes as the existing strengths at the heart of Vanier’s dynamism and potential.
The rationale given by those in support of the grant — including Mayor Jim Watson and Rawlson King, City Councillor for the area — is that the City will gain revenue through the investment.
"It's injecting more money into the city coffers so we can provide greater social services, more social housing, greater infrastructure," Jim Watson told the CBC.
It’s true that the grant is not a direct contribution to the costs of the dealership; rather, $2.9 million will be waived in property taxes over ten years, in order to offset the tax increase associated with redevelopment.
However, there’s no guarantee that any extra revenue the City captures from the new dealership will be re-invested in social services or housing, let alone in the neighbourhood of Vanier itself. It’s unclear from the Mayor’s statement if this is meant to be an investment in “revitalizing” the Vanier community or simply a tool to increase revenue for the City.
Moreover, it’s hard to believe that Mark Motors — who own six luxury auto dealerships across Ottawa — could or would not upgrade the property without a significant subsidy from the City. Considered in that light, the $2.9 million may be revenue lost.
The decision to subsidize the re-development of a luxury car dealership on Montreal Road is yet another example of the City’s leadership prioritizing the corporate class and wealthy donors (the Mrak family has donated thousands of dollars to Mayor Watson and other City Councillors’ campaigns throughout the years) over the interests and needs of the rest of its residents.
The grant was purportedly designed to build upon Vanier’s strengths and diversity. What communities need are investments in walkable streets, affordable housing, public space, cultural institutions, and services and businesses that cater to residents who may not be able to afford a Porsche. The Mrak’s argument that their dealership will function as a “gateway” to these things is laughable.
I’m willing to bet that if anyone bothered to ask Vanier residents what they envision for a vibrant, livable Montreal Road, a new luxury car dealership would not feature in their list of critical investments. I cannot accept that this project will “improve quality of place,” as the CIP purports to do, for the Vanier community — certainly not in the way most of us consider the “quality” of our neighbourhoods.
City Council should not accept it, either.