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'It's difficult for everyone': CFIB asking for city to help businesses impacted during construction season

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As construction season ramps up in Winnipeg, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is calling on the city to provide support to those businesses that are impacted by the work and corresponding road closures.

CFIB sent an open letter to Winnipeg's mayor and councillors Thursday, saying businesses throughout the city are being negatively impacted when construction is set up nearby.

"Small business owners report several common issues during local construction projects, from traffic and noise to dust and debris. Their operations are also disrupted by challenges with courier deliveries and accessibility for customers and staff due to limited parking," the letter reads.

CFIB said two-thirds of small Manitoba businesses have reported disruptions because of construction in the last five years and almost half were not given any notice as to when it would start.

Data also business owners have lost 22 per cent of their revenues over the last five years due to infrastructure work and they have to spend an average of $53,000 to deal with situations like property damage, area clean up or even upping insurance premiums.

Brianna Solberg, the director of provincial affairs with CFIB, said businesses are often left with no options, and they just have to "sit and wait" for projects to finish.

"In some cases, business owners will see significant revenue loss due to all of these issues," said Solberg.

Zohreh Gervais, the executive director of Osborne Village BIZ, said this is a common problem she hears about from several businesses in the area.

"It's difficult for everyone, and we know that there's going to be a payoff for the community once it's finished, but during the process of construction, it definitely is a challenge for the neighbouring businesses," said Gervais.

For Osborne Village, she noted one of the main concerns is the reduced parking, which can lead to a loss of income if fewer people are able to park nearby.

"Businesses understand as well that the construction is something that needs to happen and that will ultimately revitalize the neighbourhood and bring a lot of people to the area…but the process of construction can be quite lengthy, as you know and it really does affect the day-to-day operations of some businesses."

When looking at possible solutions, Solberg points to cities like Montreal and Calgary which have come up with plans to help businesses.

"Some of them offer financial compensation for businesses that see revenue losses due to public infrastructure work. I think the City of Montreal hands out up to $40,000 for businesses who face revenue loss. The city of Calgary has a pilot program in a couple of communities (where) they're offering $5,000 grants."

If financial compensation isn't an option, Solberg suggests other options such as a break on property taxes, or policies that ensure projects are being done on time.

"If it's not going to be grants, maybe tax breaks, and if not financial compensation, then at least strict policies on planning communication and ensuring projects are completed in a timely manner."

Gervais said she would be in favour of compensation for impacted businesses, especially if construction is being delayed.

"It certainly impacts the ability for them to draw their clients to the business and also for their employees to get around as well," said Gervais.

Solberg said CFIB has met with Mayor Scott Gillingham on this issue and noted he is very aware of the disruptions.

"I know right now the city does do a good amount of work to ensure businesses are aware of the construction that's going to impact them. When we met with the mayor, I think that's what he had told us, is they're making sure to go out and send somebody out to inform the best that they can. But I think a formal policy in writing would help solidify that for business owners and clear up any confusion."

In an email to CTV News Winnipeg, a city spokesperson said they try to minimize construction impacts on businesses as much as possible.

"We plan work as best we can in advance, but are also very willing to troubleshoot once work is underway if businesses have issues we did not anticipate or underestimated the impact of," the spokesperson said.

On the compensation topic, the spokesperson said while the city does not provide it, the public works department presented a report to city council last year.

"As part of the report we conducted a survey of major Canadian cities, to investigate their practices regarding potential compensation related to business loss during road construction. None of the cities had a universal compensation program for all road renewal where businesses may be affected."

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