The City of Ottawa appears set to grant the Tanger outlet mall in Kanata a special exemption to remain open on statutory holidays.
Only seven other areas of the city have been given permission to open on those holidays, including the airport, the Rideau Centre and ByWard Market, and the Glebe.
The city's finance and economic development committee agreed Tuesday to accept an application from the mall's co-owner, Riocan Real Estate Investment Trust, to join that list, which would allow its stores to stay open on New Year's Day, Family Day, Victoria Day, Canada Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving.
"People will have driven in from Cornwall, Quebec, Kingston. They'll show up in Ottawa fully expecting that the outlet malls were to be open only to be disappointed, of course, that they're not," said Eric Topolnisky, regional director of operations with Riocan and a former general manager of the mall.
Tanger Outlets gets complaints by email and Facebook from those frustrated tourists, Topolnisky said.
Councillors divided on giving Tanger advantage
But Sean McKenny of the Ottawa and District Labour Council questioned how Tanger Outlets met the criteria for the exemption.
Before granting an exemption, the city requires that the applicant be within two kilometres of a tourism attraction — in Tanger's case the city sees those as being the Canadian Tire Centre, the Bell Sensplex and the Thunderbird Sports Centre — and that a quarter of its business depend on tourism.
"Let's face it, whether masks on or otherwise, nothing has happened at the Canadian Tire Centre in six months," said McKenny.
But RioCan applied for the exemption before the COVID-19 shutdown. Coun. Keith Egli, who chairs the board of health, questioned whether the exemption should be delayed until the city was on "more stable footing" with regards to the pandemic.
Coun. Riley Brockington said allowing businesses in one area to open on statutory holidays gives them an advantage over those that can't. He said he's heard from business owners in his River ward who were frustrated in 2016 when the Glebe received the exemption, and suggested the city look at the issue from a citywide perspective.
But Coun. Jenna Sudds, who represents Kanata North, where the outlet mall is located, said it's important to help the hard-hit tourism sector and its employees try to bounce back from the pandemic.
"Yes, the businesses in Tanger will benefit. But it's is not just them: it is those spin-off effects, it is restaurants in the area, it is hotels in the area, it is the sports leagues that draw these tourists to our city," said Sudds.
Full city council must approve the exemption at its meeting Sept. 9.