It's time for action on vacant storefronts.
Local business owners tell me that their number one concern is skyrocketing rent. Neighbours often bring up how much our commercial arteries have changed in recent years. Everyone inevitably brings up the problem of vacant storefronts.
There are legitimate business reasons that a commercial landlord might keep a property vacant for a short period of time – tenant turnover, renovations, or an impending sale. What the number and duration of storefront vacancies on Queen Street, Kingston Road, and other commercial strips in the neighbourhood suggests, however, is that something else is afoot.
Why is it that rents are high when there seems to be an ever-increasing supply of vacant storefronts? One would expect rents to be going down, not up. One reason why this isn’t happening is that commercial property owners are seeing dramatic increases in property value. This has made some owners less motivated to rent and more tolerant of longer periods of vacancy. Some have decided that it’s simply not worth the “hassle” to fill the empty space at all. Until recently, the situation was only made worse by a vacancy rebate on commercial property taxes.
The negative effects of holding property vacant for long periods of time is clear. We feel it and see it when we walk down Queen St. E. and ask ourselves, “What’s going on here? First there was one, now there are many closed shopfronts, and there’s more graffiti, dirty windows, etc.” It’s what economists call a negative externality and the effects are more than just aesthetic. Prospective businesses opt to set up shop elsewhere and those that are here making a go of it have a harder time when the shop next door is vacant and neglected and the overall foot traffic decreases.
I’ll work with anyone and everyone who is interested in recalibrating the mismatched incentives that currently exist between commercial property owners, local business operators, and the people of Beaches – East York who live and shop in the community. I believe this starts with a commercial vacancy tax on empty storefronts. This isn’t about penalizing commercial property owners for legitimate business decisions. It’s about taking action after an extended period of vacancy.
The bottom line is this: When our commercial arteries deteriorate, some benefit. When they thrive, we all do.
It’s time for action.