City of Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey says 2018 is best summed up as a year of positive development for the community.
Whether the summary is taken literally or figuratively, he believes council’s first full year in office has seen them take many steps to guide the city in the right direction going forward.
“It’s been a little overwhelming, but overall it’s been an exciting year for us,” Creasey told the Globe in an interview last Thursday morning.
“It’s certainly nice to be recognized for a lot of awards, and we’ve had some positive developments that have moved forward over the past year, so overall, I think it’s been a good one for Lacombe.”
While the idea of positive development may be dependant on one’s point of view, one area that can’t be questioned is the widespread recognition the City of Lacombe has received over the past year.
In the summer, it won the 2018 Alberta Urban Municipalities Association Sustainability in Collaboration award for the North Red Deer Regional Wastewater System, alongside the Town of Blackfalds, the City of Red Deer and Lacombe County. The system went live earlier this year.
In late November, it received the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s Envision Silver Award for sustainable infrastructure with regards to the Main Street Project. The same project also won the city the American Public Works Association Alberta Chapter’s 2018 Project of the Year in the $5-10 million category.
Outside the umbrella of infrastructure, the city also won the Choosewell Healthy Community Award for Building Community Capacity from the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association for a number of initiatives promoting healthy and active lifestyles.
Perhaps the biggest achievement, however, was being ranked the fifth best place to live in the country, and best in Alberta, according to “MoneySense,” Canada’s leading personal finance magazine and website.
Just a year ago, Lacombe ranked 299th on the list. Creasey said there was no single factor that led to the significant jump, but a “well-balanced improvement across all categories,” which include affordability, wealth and the economy, taxes, population, growth, crime, weather, amenities and culture, as well as commute and access to health care.
In order to maintain that ranking, however, he said improvement in economic development is needed.
One of the major election issues, council placed a focus on marketing the city as being open for business.
Already, Creasey says they’re starting to see changes on all sides of the community.
Work on the west area development off Hwy 12 and the QEII is finally underway, as well as a new community health centre near the south entrance of the city, as well as the Charis Village seniors development on the north end.
Council has also taken steps towards getting the Lacombe Market Square area on the east end of the city going as well, including a somewhat controversial decision to approve $750,000 to help bring a major Canadian retailer to the city.
Next door to the area where the major retailer is expected to move in, he says there is ongoing construction on a multi-department commercial retail unit, as well as places for fuel, fast food and other businesses.
“I would like to think positive movement in construction of that area will help us follow through with a signed agreement (with the developer for the major retailer). It is in the hands of private developers…but all I can say is talks have been positive and are ongoing to this date.”
Of course, one of the biggest challenges of the year was dealing with the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis.
“It was a questionable way it was rolled out by our federal government, to put it politely. It seemed like a tremendous amount of resources, time and money across the entire nation…certainly not the most efficient way of doing things,” he said.
“For our specific case, Lacombe really led the way in developing regulations that best suited the community. In fact, I was contacted by many other communities asking what we did and many chose to align theirs with ours. I think that’s a feather in the cap of council, and moreso administration.”
The legalization of cannabis brought with it more economic development opportunities, with a total of about six prepared to open in the city once the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC) Commission reopens applications.
“To be honest, I was pleased to see so many people see it as a business opportunity,” he said. “I think, given our population, a lot of us think six (shops) is a little high, but we didn’t feel it was the city’s role to limit those opportunities….We choose to let free enterprise flourish and do what it does best.”
The trend of making “positive” steps forward is one Creasey believes will continue into the new year.
Movement is expected on the west area, as well as on the north end of the city as the Henner’s Pond outfall project goes ahead, facilitating development of the Charis seniors village. Creasey hopes good news is coming with regards to a new senior citizen’s lodge facility in 2019, too.
“We’ve got lots of new businesses that are scheduled to open and start building as well,” he said. “But there has been a lot of exciting and positive things happen for Lacombe and area I would say, and it makes me ever more positive about what’s before us in 2019 and beyond.”