An economic downturn that has lingered longer than many expected is changing the way the City of Red Deer looks at attracting investment.
“Historically, our economic development department had focused a lot on land and the provision of land in order to facilitate economic development,” said Mayor Tara Veer on Wednesday.
“We recognize in this new economic normal we’re in — particularly because of the recession — that we actually need to be more proactive in how we approach economic development.”
Veer made her comments following a news conference announcing that the Downtown Business Association and RCMP are to share space in a long-vacant downtown building just north of Ross Street on Little Gaetz Avenue.
Also announced was the intention to move the city’s economic development staff out of their fourth-floor City Hall offices into a higher-profile location in the historic CPR station at the foot of Ross Street.
Veer said the move will “send a very strong signal to potential investors that we are serious about our economic diversification.”
“Land and economic development needs to have a stronger public interface and not just be housed at City Hall,” said Veer.
Veer sees the move as an opportunity to shift the department’s focus from processing economic development opportunities to playing a more active role in selling the community.
“The train station is a perfect location,” she said, adding it is at the gateway of the historic downtown and close to the Railyards and the under-development Capstone at Riverlands districts.
“It really sends a strong message that we are proactively looking at revitalizing, not only our local economy in general, but specifically, our downtown.”
Veer said the train station location is meant to encourage drop-ins from those interested in the community.
“We needed a strong public interface so people can drop in, ask any questions that they have, and meet with our land and economic development staff, so that they can pursue their business and economic development goals.”
It has high visbility for those looking to cut land deals or make a business investment, while fitting in well with tourism initiatives, said Veer.
The city set aside $30,000 in its budget to move the department and it will cost $65,000 a year in operating costs at the train station.
Those costs could be offset because space will now be freed up at City Hall.
Another move expected to give the city and downtown a boost is the Downtown Business Association’s new location in a commercial space vacant for at least 20 years. Taking the second floor will be the Alberta Business and Health Institute, a private post-secondary learning centre.
“I’m over the moon with the opportunities it’s going to present,” said association executive director Amanda Gould.
“I think what this move does is really show our community that we’re serious about things that are happening downtown and we want to affect change.
“This is the DBA showing the business community that we are capable of doing exactly that, and we have their best interests at heart and we want a great downtown for all members of the community.”