Do the FBI have a responsibility to help restore downtown Ottawa’s economy?

The question came up Tuesday after a presentation by the Ottawa Board of Trade at a meeting of the city council’s finance and economic development committee.

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Does the federal government have a responsibility to improve the economic health of downtown Ottawa by returning officials to office?

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The question came up Tuesday after a presentation by the Ottawa Board of Trade at a meeting of the city council’s finance and economic development committee.

count. Mathieu Fleury asked Chairman of the Board and CEO Sueling Ching if the organization had formalized a request to the federal government for more information about when employees would return to its downtown offices after COVID-19 forced thousands of officials to stay at home. to work.

But Ching said the unknowns applied to all workplaces, not just federal ones.

“What we’re honestly trying to get a handle on, not just the government as an employer, but all employers, is what the hunger for return to office is,” Ching said.

“Even CEOs we’ve met who have national mandates are struggling with how to get back to the office safely, in a way that supports what their workforce wants to do and that they can keep that workforce.”

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Ching said the trade council was working on ways to boost “employees’ confidence” to return to the office.

City Hall has been trying for months to figure out the federal government’s intentions when it comes to returning officials to downtown offices.

The status of federal workers is especially important as the city tries to project passenger numbers for OC Transpo. When the city’s draft 2022 budget is submitted on Wednesday, there can be a lot of guesswork when it comes to revenue projections in the transit department.

The city is also keeping an eye on the economic health of the retail and service sectors at its core, as the traditional consumer base thinned out during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there are positive signs.

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Cushman & Wakefield’s analysis of downtown Ottawa showed a vacancy rate of one percent in the second quarter of 2021, an improvement from 1.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020. In the fourth quarter of 2019, the downtown vacancy rate was 3.1. percent, according to the Cushman & Wakefield research.

During the committee meeting, Rev. Eli El-Chantiry encouraged Mayor Jim Watson to work with the federal government on “promoting and encouraging people to return to work.”

A minister from central Ottawa now oversees the federal government’s administration, with Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier taking over as chairman of the Treasury Board. Fortier’s riding encompasses part of downtown, east of the Rideau Canal, including the ByWard Market and Rideau Center.

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After the committee meeting, Rev. Laura Dudas, who as the vice chair of the committee has also worked closely with the business community during the pandemic, said work-from-home mandates issued by inner-city employers had generated economic activity for off-core stores.

Dudas said the businesses on St. Joseph Boulevard were doing well during the pandemic, with work-at-home residents spending money at their local stores.

But the demand in the inner city is looming.

“I think now is the right time to have that conversation about how we as a city, but even as residents, can support local downtown businesses that over time have become very dependent on day workers to support their businesses, Dudas said in an interview.

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Downtown businesses will need to diversify their customer base and consider what services residents need, Dudas said. The city can do its part by promoting downtown events, she added.

The city has no control over when or if employers return employees to their offices.

Dudas agreed that the city can no longer rely on the federal government to protect the economic health of the inner city.

“There’s an opportunity here to see how we can strengthen our downtown businesses for the long term (given that we don’t know what the future of work looks like,” Dudas said.

jwilling@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JonathanWilling

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