Putting Red Deer first
An election pamphlet from Red Deer First does exactly what these kinds of leaflets are designed to do: elicit discussion. And a question: Are you kidding?
The pamphlet lists its candidates on one side with a nice group photo. The other side suggests it’s time for “serious change” on city council.
Red Deerians are asked to consider the cost of “no change” with a list of recent capital expenses and a tally of the city’s debt, intending to convince voters that these expenses are bad for the city.
They list $750,000 to repaint the city’s iconic water tower. This was the first repainting since the tower was built in 1958. Maintenance needed to be done and $750,000 is what it cost. The painting, and removal of rust spots, mean the job won’t need to be done for as many as 50 more years. And yes, the tower is significant part of our water delivery system. Averaged out over 50 years, that’s an annual cost of $15,000 to help ensure quality water delivery to a large portion of the city. Is someone suggesting there was some kind of fraud involved in the project, or that it was unnecessary? Are you kidding?
There is also the favourite whipping boy of budget hawks, moving the civic yards out of the downtown, for $120 million.
If Red Deer First can be specific about where there was deliberate waste, let’s hear it. But moving the civic yards away from the downtown riverbank was not just an expense; it was the opening of a once-in-forever opportunity to gain an asset worth many hundreds of millions.
Gaining a development property of that size, with still-natural riverfront, in the city’s downtown core, is like finding a diamond the size of a baseball at one of our canoe launches.
The Ross Street and Taylor Drive rebuild at $17 million made the list. I have my own quibbles with the Ross and Taylor project; it is the downtown’s most pedestrian-unfriendly intersection. It gives virtually no pedestrian link to the keystone Riverlands area.
But at some point, you have to trust the engineers that there is a plan for the area that includes walkers in the phenomenal growth that area is about to see.
Absent from the list is the millions already spent on the North Connector ring road and bridge. Oh, there it is, hidden in our $241-million debt. That made the pamphlet’s list. (In fact, as of June 30 the city’s debt was $199.1 million, not $241 million.)
Let’s get serious here. There are but a handful of transportation corridors that handle the flow of money that keeps the Canadian economy running.
One is Toronto’s Yonge Street. The Trans-Canada Hwy, particularly as it approaches Vancouver, is another. The central portion of Hwy 2 is on that scale.
The highway and the adjacent rail line is a river of money. Red Deer, and our partner counties, straddle that river and would starve without access to it.
Money attracts people. Red Deer has grown almost 300 per cent in my time here. It will be 20 to 30 per cent larger than it is today sooner than some may think.
What does a city of 130,000 get? A full university, for one thing — they are a very stable producer of residential taxes and consumer activity, and a lot of cities would love to have one.
We get an airport worthy of the name, with regular flights all over this part of the continent — perhaps even the funhouse of Las Vegas, or the winter retreats in Arizona.
We get recreation facilities that can stage provincial and national events. We get a performance stage large enough to carry major touring shows. All big revenue producers.
A city grows on three pillars: industry, education and tourism potential. If one of these is ailing, the whole city gets sick. Just look at the bankrupt cities in the U.S. that have lost their industrial base.
Red Deer has all three bases covered. We are a manufacturing and service centre for the energy and agricultural industries. We have a college with a vision for the future. We stage a long list of major festivals (which sometimes shut downtown streets). And we have a natural resource along our river that other cities could only dream of.
None of this moves forward without smooth access to that river of money.
We will grow 20 to 30 per cent in the coming decades, but we will not grow our footprint by that degree. That’s because we spent $120 million getting the city yards out of the way, to open up profits and opportunity to come right at our core.
The cost of “no change?” You’ve got to be kidding. It’s an investment in huge change.
Looking at the experience of other cities, I’ve concluded you can’t really manage growth. It happens on its own, because of location and opportunity.
But there are more ways to deal badly with growth than to deal well with it.
Failing to invest when opportunity knocks is to deal badly with growth. Red Deer has done that in the past, and that failure came back to bite us.
I don’t think the Red Deer First election pamphlet puts Red Deer first at all.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.