A city committee is recommending that a special property tax class developed to support artist hubs should be expanded to cover live music venues, many of whom are now struggling to stay in business amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has forced their closure.

The special property tax designation, which was launched in 2018, is currently only given to eight facilities that house artist collectives but during a meeting on Wednesday members of the Toronto Music Advisory Committee voted unanimously in favour of widening the eligibility to include live music venues as well.

The change, which still needs to be approved by city council, would mean that the owners of hundreds of buildings containing live music venues would have access to a 50 per cent property tax rebate with the expectation being that the savings would be passed on to their tenants.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the existing inequities and failures in our society. Being in an already precarious position, live music workers, artists, and venues have been hit hard by the pandemic,” Coun. Joe Cressy, who is the co-chair of the committee, said in a release. “We need to stabilize and support the live music community to weather the storm, but we also need to be working to build a more vibrant and sustainable music economy for the 21st century – not simply going back to the pre-pandemic status quo.”

Prior to the pandemic the city was looking into the feasibility of offering a grant program to support live music venues but given the $1.5 billion the municipality expects to lose as a result of COVID-19 , a decision was made to pivot and pursue a special property tax designation instead.

News of the property tax designation comes in the wake of a survey by the Canadian Live Music Association that suggests 70 per cent of venues could be lost to a prolonged closure.

In a report that was considered by the committee on Wednesday, staff pointed out that live music venues were among the first businesses forced to close due to COVID-19 and may be among the last to reopen.

“COVID-19 poses a severe risk to live music venues,” the report warns.

In order to be eligible for inclusion in the special property tax class, venues will have to capacity of less than 1,500 and present live music on at least 144 days each year. They will also have to have specific infrastructure, such as a fixed stage or a sound booth.