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

Big Shiny Projects (BSPs)

I suspect that Grande Prairie is going to grow over the next few years. As it does, Council will have both an opportunity and a need to take on big projects. So what kind of projects should we be looking at?

THE SHORT VERSION

Big Shiny Projects (BSPs) are expensive projects which get a lot of attention and are exciting to consider. Past examples include Revolution Place and The Eastlink Centre. A current example is the Bear Creek Outdoor Pool. BSPs have a place in our City, and future Councils should consider undertaking them. However, right now is not the time to start a BSP. Our very next Council needs to focus on two projects that are big but not shiny and exciting. Those are: 1) fixing the bypass (which will cost a lot of money) and 2) regional agreements (which will take a lot of time and attention- read more about them here). When it comes to recreation and community enhancement, our next Council should be looking at smaller projects, especially those that have volunteer support.

THE LONG VERSION

Defining a Big Shiny Projects (BSP)

Every once in a while, a city gets to look at what I call a Big Shiny Project (a BSP). A BSP is something that gets a lot of attention. It is usually a recreational or cultural facility. It is something that a lot of people will use, notice, and appreciate. Something that visitors will checkout. Something that will get featured in city marketing material. Something that many residents will call “the best thing in our city!” A BSP is also something that costs millions or tens of millions of dollars to build.

Examples of past BSPs in Grande Prairie include The Montrose Cultural Centre, Muskoseepi Park, Revolution Place, and The Eastlink Centre. This summer, we are building a new BSP: Bear Creek Outdoor Pool.

The Value of BSPs

BSPs have an important role in a city. They allow residents to pursue leisure, culture and sport activities. They create places where we can connect at community events. And they make Grande Prairie an attractive place for out of town people to consider moving to, visiting, or investing in. In the past, our city has put a lot of resources into BSPs.

For the most part, I am thankful for the BSPs past Councils have pursued. Sure, sometimes we can manage or utilize these facilities better. But overall these projects have greatly enhanced our city. However, they were not without costs.

The Cost of Big Shiny Projects

Big projects cost big bucks. This means increased taxes or less money available for other uses. Council needs to be very careful before taking on the financial costs of a BSP.

There is another significant cost to BSPs which often gets ignored: the attention they take.

Council and city administration have a finite amount of time and energy. The more attention they give to a BSP, the less attention they give to less exciting but potentially more important matters.

The public also has limited time and energy- citizens cannot pay attention to everything the city does. And BSPs often dominate public conversation and thought. A controversial BSP can prevent the public from participating in and holding Council accountable for other less publicized decisions.

So, should we be paying the financial and attention costs for future BSPs?

Two Projects for Our Next Council

In the future, we should pursue some BSPs. A performing arts centre and a second indoor pool are likely to be the next two BSPs considered in Grande Prairie. These facilities could be exciting, and I am sure a future Council will appreciate getting the opportunity to push them forward. But I don’t think the Council we are electing this year should be pulling the trigger on a BSP.

Instead, our next Council needs to focus on two projects which are certainly big, but not very shiny. They won’t excite the public imagination. If done well, people will forget these projects existed five years from now. However, these projects are vital for the long-term sustainability and livability of Grande Prairie. If done poorly, these projects will be very noticeable for decades to come.

One of these projects will cost a lot of money. The other will cost a lot of time and energy. They are:

  1. Fixing the Bypass: The current bypass is in rough shape. It needs a resurface, intersection upgrades, traffic light upgrades, designated turning lanes, bridge upgrades, and more work besides. Currently, the city cannot do anything about it: the province owns it. However, the province is handing it over to us when 43x opens (hopefully in 2019). Once we get ownership, Council needs to be ready to immediately start overhauling this important road. I am told a basic overhaul will be in the $60 million range. And we might consider spending more for extra lanes, a pedestrian overpass, or a walking trail on the north side. The province has promised us $20 million, but we will need to come up with the rest. Roads aren’t shiny, but they are certainly expensive. And this one is critical. Fixing the bypass needs to be the big money project our next Council pursues.
  2. Regional Agreements: I wrote a detailed post on this project- check it out here. The very short version: the province is changing how we work with other municipalities. We have two years to enter formal agreements with the County on cost sharing and program delivery in many areas of service. We have the option of also entering into agreements with other regional municipalities. This is the most important thing our next Council will do because it impacts almost everything in the City. The negotiations we are about to enter will affect us for decades. This won’t cost us millions upon millions of dollars. However, this project will be very complex and it will take a lot of time and attention from Council and city staff. We can’t let anything distract us from doing a good job on regional negotiations. This needs to be the project our next Council gives the most attention to.

A road and agreements with other municipalities are not shiny and exciting projects. But they are big and very important. If our next Council does a good job on these, I think they will put the following Councils in a great position to have the resources needed to consider some new BSPs.

Smaller Projects

I don’t think it is time for us to be pushing forward a Big Shiny Project. However, that doesn’t mean that we should stop making Grande Prairie a better place to live. There are many smaller projects we can invest in to enhance quality of life in Grande Prairie.

In general, I think a couple dozen small projects can improve our City as much as a single BSP. And we can get many smaller projects done for tens of millions of dollars less than a BSP.

Partnering with Volunteers

Another great benefit of smaller projects: they often leverage volunteer work. I know this from firsthand experience in the Disc Golf Club. There are groups in town willing to put in hundreds of volunteer hours if given enough support to have their projects succeed. Working with volunteers saves the City money. However, it has other benefits too: volunteering is the best way to connect with others. By supporting volunteer efforts, we support the development of community within Grande Prairie.

Additionally, partnering with volunteers means that we are meeting real needs in the city. Volunteers are less likely than paid staff to push forward unwanted projects.

It is difficult to say what small projects our next Council should pursue since many of them will be dependent on a group of volunteers getting excited. However, if elected, I will often be supportive of small projects that work with volunteers to make our city better. It might not be time to push forward any Big Shiny Projects. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working on making Grande Prairie a better place to live.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you agree with my assessment of the two biggest projects our next Council needs to pursue? Whether it happens now or later, what is the next Big Shiny Project you think we should look at? What are some smaller projects you would like to see happen? Comment on this post, send me an email, or stop me to chat when you see me in the community.

Let’s figure out how to make GP even better!

-Dylan