page contents Vote Dylan Bressey, candidate for Grande Prairie City Council. Election 2017. page contents

Downtown Rehabilitation

This week, Downtown Rehabilitation was discussed at a council committee. The Downtown Association wants to see this project move forward. I thought I'd take the opportunity to re-post and clarify my opinion.

The Downtown Association adds great value to our City. I’ve been excited to support projects with them in the past and see them as an important partner. But I have to respectfully disagree with the Association’s view on Phase 4 of the Downtown Rehabilitation.

During budget deliberations, Council was presented with options to undertake Phase 4 of this project in 2019. The presented options would’ve seen the City spending up to $28,000,000 this year. The large majority of that would’ve been financed through debt.

Council chose NOT to go ahead with this work for now. However, it also directed administration to come back with options to improve the surface looks of 100 Ave without tearing up the roads. I supported this course of action. I do believe some modest investment in improving the looks of the east end of 100 Ave is worthwhile. But with the information I have right now, it would be irresponsible to support borrowing tens of millions of dollars to go ahead with Phase 4 at this time.

I wrote about my views on downtown going into budget deliberations. You can see those here.

From the start, my understanding is that work downtown is about underground water infrastructure. There were pipes with a high likelihood of failure. There were also potential re-development sites which did not have big enough pipes to support higher densities. These problems needed to be fixed ASAP. And since the roads and sidewalks were getting torn up anyways, Council opted to upgrade the streetscape after fixing the pipes.

So far, we have completed Phases 1-3 of the Downtown Rehabilitation. These first phases included all the downtown sites with strong redevelopment potential and inadequate pipe capacity. They also included all sections of pipe with strong potential for failure. In my opinion, previous work downtown was worth the investment because it was addressing clear needs underground.

Future phases of the Downtown Rehabilitation have different underground needs. I've talked to engineers and managers from Aquatera, the City, and industry. The consensus: the pipes in future phases likely have a couple decades of life remaining. I am also unaware of any lots in future phases that have strong redevelopment potential anytime soon.

Further underground work is not needed at this time. It may not be needed for decades.

At the same time, we do have half of 100 Ave looking much more modern and pleasant than the other half. This bothers some enough that they would like to see the rest of 100 Ave work completed right now.

When faced with requests to continue with Downtown Rehabilitation, Council has three options that I can see:

  1. Turn down this request, leave the street and pipe in place until they need to be replaced (the current course we are on)

  2. Replace the pipes and streets now, despite likely having decades of usable life remaining in the pipes. This would require up to $28,000,000 in work in 2019.

  3. Tear out and replace the streetscape now but leave the pipes alone. Then tear up and replace the streetscape again when the pipes are replaced in the future. This would cost ~$3,000,000 per block.

I cannot support Option 2. There are much more urgent infrastructure projects in our City. It would be irresponsible to replace these pipes when they have decades of usable life while we have other roads and pipes in the City that need much more immediate attention.

I also cannot support Option 3. I do believe that modest investment in downtown aesthetics is important. I was happy to support downtown art. Administration will also be giving Council options to improve 100 Ave without putting in infrastructure that will be destroyed when the pipes eventually get replaced- while I need to see the numbers, I’m likely to support these. But $3,000,000 per block just to improve the looks of downtown would be reckless and irresponsible when we have other urgent needs in our community.

That leaves Option 1 as the only viable option in my mind. While I would love to have a uniform, completely modern downtown, the cost to accomplish that at this time is much too high. In Grande Prairie, we have high tax rates, high debt, and low reserves compared to many other cities. At the same time, I see many community needs that are not being adequately addressed (such as the lack of affordable and social housing in our community).

We are not currently in a position to spend millions upon millions of dollars just to improve the look of a couple of blocks, no matter how central they are.

That being said, this is an important conversation that we should continue to have. I’m always open to re-examining a position. There are a few things that would make me likely to support going ahead with Phase 4 of Downtown Rehabilitation:

  • Receiving new information that gave me significantly less confidence in the condition of underground pipes

  • Learning about a new, higher density redevelopment that needed expanded pipe capacity to more forward

  • If a large majority of businesses downtown were willing to pay a Local Improvement Tax to finance the Downtown Association’s wish to spend millions to upgrade the remaining streetscape on 100 Ave

That’s my take on Downtown Rehabilitation at this time. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Please comment here, call me at 780-402-4166, or email me at dbressey@cityofgp.com.

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan