Red Deerians could see some resolution to several long-standing issues in 2023, said Mayor Ken Johnston.
After a long wait, the permanent homeless shelter’s location will finally be known in the New Year. And construction of the project is anticipated to start in the spring, said Johnston, who remains optimistic the shelter could still be completed by the 2024 target date.
As for the Red Deer hospital expansion, the provincial government is expected to host public information sessions in the spring to let Central Albertans know more about how the project will be phased in and what it’s expected to look like.
Johnston, who met with provincial officials last fall, said he’s also hoping to see an interim plan unveiled as to how various stresses on the facility will be alleviated over the next eight years until the total expansion can be completed by 2030-31.
Whether Red Deer gets some additional ambulances will also be known by the end of March when city officials expect to have a new contract with Alberta Health Services. Protective services manager Ken McMullen will be asking for three to five more ambulances to help reduce the workload for local fire-medics.
Depending on how a Jan. 16 public hearing goes, the decades-long Molly Banister Drive issue could also finally be resolved. Johnston didn’t want to comment too much on this matter to avoid influencing the process. But the reality is, if Melcor Developments is allowed to create a neighbourhood in the right-of-way now held in case a future eastward expansion of Molly Banister Drive is necessary, then the issue will be moot once and for all.
Another terminus matter will be the demolition of the Buffalo Hotel and Club Cafe, also planned for next spring.
The mayor confirmed the demo will go ahead, although city council faced criticism for not making public its plans to make way for new downtown development by buying, then destroying the Ross Street hotel from 1903, and 1920s cafe.
On Tuesday, Johnston pledged Red Deerians would be surveyed about what they would like to see developed on that half-a-city-block by private developers.
The mayor has no definite ideas for the prominent corner, but imagines a commercial/ residential complex or offices. Much will depend on what local developers bring forward added Johnston.
He described 2022 as a busy year, with relationship-building as a main goal.
The mayor and members of council met with various city agencies and businesses, inclusivity advocates, LGBTQ+ groups, the United Way and various charities, as well as investors and local business owners. Johnston believes these connections have helped solidify better relations going forward.
He hopes to expand on the gains Red Deer made in 2022 with a lower unemployment rate (6.5 per cent at year-end, down from 10 per cent in January), healthy home sales and continued housing affordability.
“We were a leader in Alberta with residential home sales. There’s been a tremendous post-COVID response.”
Johnston said he keeps asking himself “where the next Nova is,” and continues to promote the Red Deer area as promising a carbon capture region.
The mayor would be happy to see one or two Capstone lots developed in 2023 with “significant, catalytic” projects that will create excitement about that riverside area.
“From a tourism perspective, I’d like us to make our mark with the major events strategy,” bringing big sports or cultural events to the city, he added.
And Johnston hopes the city will host a 2022 Recovery Conference to spark discussions about how to better help addicted people regain more control of their lives.