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Budget 2019: Downtown Rehabilitation

Budget deliberations are this week. Within them Council will be debating whether or not to proceed with the next phase of Downtown Rehabilitation in 2019.

Following is some information and my thoughts. As always, any mistakes or opinions belong to me and me alone.

Phase 4 centers on 100 Ave and 100 St. Council will be presented an option to do just 2 blocks of 100 Ave (from 100 St to Resources Road which is from CIBC to Co-op) or to do that plus two blocks of 100 St (from 99 Ave to 101 Ave which is from Wendy’s to Titos).


Aquatera will fund a portion of this cost, but at this time most of it would likely need to be financed through borrowing.

I am not yet committed to a position on this vote. I need to get more information which will be given in management’s budget presentation including pipe conditions, what is planned for intersections, and the amount of Aquatera’s contribution. I also need to spend more time dropping in on downtown businesses to get their perspectives. However, here is where I am right now:

I am very unlikely to vote in favour of work on 100 St. Shutting down both the avenue and street will make the disruptions much worse than just shutting down the avenue. Furthermore, my understanding is that the underground infrastructure on 100 St isn’t a priority. Any support I’ve given to borrowing for downtown has been based on plumbing, not surface improvements. I have not been convinced yet that the stormline under 100 St is worth replacing right now.

I am also leaning towards a “no” vote on 100 Ave work. I’ve still got an open mind. But I’m not yet convinced that any of Phase 4 should happen in 2019.

This might surprise some since I supported Phase 3 happening this year (click here to see what I wrote about it). However, there are key differences between these phases. They include:

  • Pipe Condition. In 2015, a camera inspection of the downtown sanitary section was completed. In previous phases, there were sections rated as likely to fail within the next 5 years. There are no more sections with that rating downtown. While remaining pipes will need to be replaced eventually, they are not as urgent as pipes in past phases.

  • Intensification Opportunities. The old pipes downtown are at capacity- they cannot support denser development. Throughout the Downtown Rehabilitation they are being upsized to accommodate more and larger buildings. This was particularly important in Phase 3 as there were several sites with vacant or demolished buildings ready for redevelopment. I’m not aware of similar densification opportunities in Phase 4.

  • Effected Businesses. Prior to voting on Phase 3, I dropped into or called businesses within it. The overwhelming opinion was that we should do Phase 3 in 2018. I’m undertaking the same exercise for Phase 4. It is clear that these businesses don’t have nearly the some consensus. They’re divided fairly evenly on whether we should proceed this year or leave downtown alone for a few years. And those who favour going ahead this year don’t seem to have nearly as strong an opinion as those opposed. I’ve heard from a number of businesses who fear construction in 2019 will put them under. They feel their chances of long-term viability are better if given more time to recover from the recession and earlier phases of Downtown Rehabilitation before construction recommences.

  • Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) Uncertainty: MSI is a provincial program which gives significant infrastructure grants to municipalities- we received $26,200,000 in 2017 and $9,610,000 in 2018. Every municipality in the province relies on it. It is currently set to expire in 2022, and the province hasn’t indicated how it will be replaced. With this vital funding source being uncertain, we need to be very wise and restrained in how we invest in infrastructure.

Given the lack of urgency and development opportunity as well as what I am hearing from businesses, I’m not seeing great reason to go ahead with construction in 2019.

I also see one major downside to 2019 construction: this project is currently unfunded in the Capital Budget. Presumably Council will be approving significant debt if it approves this project. But unlike Phase 3, there is no potential economic development to accompany it. I’m not comfortable borrowing for infrastructure unless it is critical or unless it has strong potential to give a good financial return. Phase 4 appears to have neither of these attributes. With that in mind, I don’t want to see it proceed until non-debt funding sources have been identified.

I know that my current opinion will disappoint some. If this is you: I’m open to having my mind changed. I’d love to hear from you. But please note: to me the Downtown Rehabilitation is about underground infrastructure. The surface improvements are nice, but they aren’t the important part. And while I support modest investments in aesthetics, taking out millions of dollars in debt for them is not something I am open to. If I do become convinced to support Phase 4 in 2018, it will almost certainly be based on arguments about what is going on underground.

This might be the most important vote Council makes this week. I’d truly appreciate any insight you have for me. You can comment below or on Facebook, call me at 780-402-4166, or email be at

I also thought you might be interested to see what was completed in Phase 3. That is listed below.

Thank you for reading!


Phase 3 Accomplishments:

Here is what happened with infrastructure in Phase 3.

  • Sanitary Pipe: 396 m

  • Sanitary Manholes: 5

  • Water Line: 400 m

  • Sanitary Services: 42 service connections

  • Water Services: 41 service connections

  • Fire Hydrants: 5 replaced, 2 added

  • Storm Pipe: 240 m

  • Storm Manholes: 4

  • Storm Catch Basins: 11

  • Roadway: 420 m

  • Sidewalks: 800 m

  • Trees: 27 Silver Cloud Maple, 41 Linden