State of the City 2015

Delivered March 12, 2015

Mayor Stuart HoustonGood evening everyone, and thank you for inviting me to share my annual State of the City address with you. On behalf of City Council, I’m pleased to highlight what we accomplished last year and what’s on the horizon for 2015. We’re already off to a solid start with many projects and initiatives, which is an advantage when facing a busy year. I can assure you that what you’ll hear from me tonight will demonstrate Spruce Grove’s willingness for growth and change as well as our commitment to community-based amenities and services that meet the expectations of our residents, business owners and visitors.

Last spring, Council developed and adopted a new 20-year strategic plan, which serves as the City’s foundation to ensure a long-term plan is in place for the community. It is our blueprint for building an exceptional city, and was used to form the 2015-2017 Corporate Plan, which is the City's principal guiding document for governance, community development and service delivery.

Our overarching focus is to make Spruce Grove a place where people choose to live, raise a family and grow a business. Being the community of choice means that we need to create a dynamic city with an outstanding quality of life. This goal requires excellent municipal services, welcoming gathering places, an active leisure, recreation and sports environment, a respected arts and culture scene and a diversified business community that enjoys a prosperous self-sustaining regional home.

Building an exceptional city is no small feat, but I am excited to be working with a visionary council, an excellent administrative team, our esteemed members of the Chamber of Commerce as well as the builders, developers, investors and entrepreneurs that have shown the confidence to believe in our city and drive an economy of prosperity where we all benefit. There is much to be achieved by working together and we are excited and dedicated to meeting the challenge.

We’ve already seen that more people are choosing to call Spruce Grove home. Results from last year’s municipal census indicated that we have over 11,000 households and a total estimated population of almost 30,000 people. Looking back since the 2011 Federal census, the city has grown approximately 4.25% each year.

Our continuing population growth is accompanied by additional development in residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Last year was another record breaking year with $243 million in total building permit valuations, which surpasses the previous record of $194 million in 2013 by almost $50 million.

This equates to about $1 million in building permit investments each and every business day in Spruce Grove!

On the residential side, activity was far more robust in 2014 than predicted. We had a total building permit value of $187 million, which is our highest residential building permit value to date. The types of housing provided remain balanced, seeing an increase in all unit types relative to previous years. The total number of new dwelling units approved increased 24% from 2013 to set a new record. This has also made Spruce Grove one of the fastest growing municipalities in the Capital region.

Our policy-led dedication toward housing diversity, coupled with flexible residential land use districts, has made the City competitive in the regional housing market for all unit types. It has created new and trendy neighbourhoods with a wide range of housing choices and many options for homebuyers to choose from.

The highest percentage of building permits for new units occurred in McLaughlin, which included an apartment building with over 100 units as well as mixed low to medium residential development. Following closely behind were the popular neighbourhoods of Greenbury, Harvest Ridge and Spruce Ridge. We also welcomed the neighbourhood of Tonewood on the east side of our city, and look forward to further construction in that area this year.

A priority for council is to diversify our tax base and we are achieving success in this area. In the commercial sector, our “open for business” attitude, which is eagerly echoed by the Chamber of Commerce, has continued to attract a variety of businesses to Spruce Grove resulting in more options for our residents. Last year’s commercial building permit and improvements number held steady at $19 million with five new buildings. We have averaged about $20 million every year for the last five years translating to an impressive $100 million in commercial building permits and improvements since 2010.

This surge was thanks, in part, to the new Tri Leisure Village development, which saw the opening of the 130-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites as well as a new Boston Pizza in 2014. Growth continues with the addition of Caffé Sorrentino, Rush Nutrition, Taco Del Mar and Subway. In the future, we’re looking forward to welcoming more shops and restaurants to the area as well as a professional building.

At the centre of the Tri Leisure Village will be a new $12 million City-owned sports and recreation facility, which will include a sports museum, multi-purpose flex space, non-profit office and program space, and lease space to the Aerials Gymnastics. This facility will open in late fall of this year, and together with the nearby Fuhr Sports Park and the TransAlta Tri Leisure Centre, it will create a community hub for sports, recreation and leisure.

Continued commercial growth was also seen at the Century Crossing development. This large-scale retail area saw the openings of Peavey Mart, Coop Gas Bar, Carl’s Jr., Opa Souvlaki and Mattress Mattress in 2014. This year, we are looking forward to welcoming the Sunset Grill restaurant, Tommy Guns Original Barbershop, Smiles Dental Group, Century Crossing Eye and Vision Care and Tirecraft.

We’re not stopping there! We also look forward to continued progress at the Westwind Centre, a 40-acre mixed use commercial and residential development in the city’s northeast corner. Services and infrastructure are being put in place to support commercial opportunities and we anticipate more news on this development in 2015.

We’ve also been examining ways in which we can revitalize the city centre area and make it a vibrant part of our community. As an initial step, we produced a discussion paper  that outlined the potential issues that we might experience as we move forward. With this in mind, a group was formed out of the local business community, for the purpose of identifying and considering future direction for the revitalization. We’re grateful to have the involvement of the Chamber of Commerce as well as local business owners and look forward to working together on this exciting project.

Shifting over to our industrial parks, we see that they continue to draw interest from investors and businesses. Last year, we more than tripled our average of three industrial buildings per year to permitting 10 new industrial buildings, the most in our history! This led to a record amount of industrial permit and improvement values, totalling $21.7 million – which is more than double the amount achieved in 2013.

In order to attract more industrial development, we’ve taken strides to strengthen our industrial marketing strategy, including re-facing the industrial billboards along highways 16 and 16A, updating our industrial promotional video to portray current activity in our parks and completing and distributing our award-winning Here We Grow profile series.

In total, Spruce Grove issued 1,392 building permits last year, which is a 25% increase over permit activity in 2013, and a 51% increase over 2012. In fact, 2014 was the busiest year in the City’s history in terms of building permit issuance, and is the second year in a row that permitting activities have set a new record.

Many in the development community have asked my opinion on the recent downturn in oil and gas revenues in Alberta and what effect that may have on Spruce Grove. I believe our calculated, open-minded approach to residential, commercial and industrial development in our city will help us ride out any shifts in the local and national economies. And, in 2008 when I stood before you, I indicated that we believed that by staying the course we would continue to attract more residents and businesses to our city. I think you will agree – this strategy helped us get where we are today and we have faith that our success is recurrent!

To help us achieve what I just mentioned, and keep us focused on the big picture, we’ll be conducting a growth study. This project will help us to identify options and strategies we can apply over the next 25 to 50 years and the impacts of different growth models. The study will begin with an introduction to the work plan in April, and we’ll be hosting various opportunities to gather information and share ideas with our municipal neighbours, development stakeholders and citizens.

Another growth related strategy we’ve invested in is making the application process easier for home builders and developers. We evaluated our residential review process and were able to identify ways in which we could make it more efficient. For example, our new goal is to process home application packages, including lot grading, development permit and building permit procedures, within 28 days from the drop off of a complete application. We will continue to work with home builders and developers to provide consistency in processing timelines.

We also want to make sure that Spruce Grove is a business-friendly community, and part of that is making it as simple as possible for businesses to operate in our city. Our streamlined business licence renewal process gives resident businesses the ability to renew their licence online. Along with this, resident businesses are no longer charged an annual business licence fee, as long as renewals are completed by the required date. This is just one of the ways we have created efficiencies for both the City and our clients that creates a win-win situation for everyone involved.

It’s our job to make sure there is a balance between growth and the service levels provided to our residents. This continues to be a challenge for us, but we know that it is a principle attraction factor for those who live in or are looking to move into our community. People want to live in a place where they can experience a high quality of life and rely on excellent programs and services.

With this in mind, we continue to offer programs like our Canada Day Celebration, which is held at popular Jubilee Park, and the Christmas in Central Park light-up event that has become an annual tradition for many local families.

As an exciting addition to Spruce Grove’s sporting events scene, we’ll be hosting the entire spring training camp for the Edmonton Eskimos this year. This is the result of an existing partnership that brought An Afternoon with the Edmonton Eskimos to Spruce Grove’s Fuhr Sports Park last Father’s Day.

We also continue to participate in the Halloween Mini Monster Bash event, a fantastic example of tri-municipal cooperation with both the Town of Stony Plain and Parkland County.

Collaborative work also continues on an event hosting strategy for the Tri-Municipal Region. The strategy is complete, has been presented to Council and focuses on opportunities to attract more events to the area that can showcase what we have to offer. The next step is to establish a hosting committee that will actively seek to bring one or two major events to the area each year.

In the summer of 2014, we harnessed the opportunity to host the Capital Region Board’s Housing Symposium Tour, which showcased the Greenbury neighbourhood as an example of market affordable housing and a model of urban development that satisfies the vision of this council.

This year, with the support and involvement of our neighbours from the Town of Stony Plain and Parkland County, will host the Stage 5 Finish of the third annual Tour of Alberta, an elite professional cycling race. This is a huge event, requiring hundreds of volunteers, a travelling festival and a race that will be broadcast in over 100 countries.

The list of things that Spruce Grove has to offer continues to add to the quality of life for our citizens.

We were more than pleased to hear that two new kindergarten to Grade 9 schools will be built in our city. The first, which will see construction begin this year, will be located in the Prescott neighbourhood on the east side of Spruce Grove, and the second will be located in the west, south of Grove Drive. We have worked extremely hard with the Parkland School Division and the Province of Alberta and are thankful to them for recognizing this emergent need in Spruce Grove. These schools are an absolute necessity for serving our growing community and providing proper education to the youth in our city.

It’s also important to us to provide residents of all ages with active and healthy pursuits that contribute to a well-rounded lifestyle. Last year we opened a new playground in Jesperdale and replaced the play structures at both the Landsdowne and Greystone Park playgrounds, proudly donating the equipment removed to communities in developing countries. And new playgrounds will be welcomed in Deer Park and Spruce Ridge this year.

We also made upgrades to our outdoor skate park as well as modernized the Brookwood Rink. And, we updated the Jubilee Park Master Plan. This updated plan recognizes opportunities to grow and expand Jubilee Park to harness its potential to serve as a year-round destination for recreation and leisure adding to the quality living we all enjoy. I’m sure you will all agree that this is one spectacular park!

Along with the ongoing and regular maintenance of open spaces and parks, plans for 2015 include constructing rest nodes along the existing Heritage Grove Park Trail, in partnership with our great friends from the Rotary Club. And we’re investing $1.2 million to construct a midget baseball diamond at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic High School and a PeeWee Class A diamond at Central Park to support our focus on quality recreation amenities and healthy lifestyles.

We also made improvements for the benefit of our four-legged friends and their owners. This past December, the Cpl. Jim Galloway Memorial Off Leash Area, received new lighting installations. This improvement allows park goers to enjoy better visibility throughout the park after nightfall.

On the cultural side, Horizon Stage External, which we share and partner together with our friends from Parkland School Division and Parkland County, continues its fine tradition of hosting a variety of performances that appeal to all audiences and musical tastes. And, in 2015, we’ll continue to strengthen our vibrant cultural scene by developing a vision and master plan for arts and culture in our city.

To move us forward in reaching our goal of diverting 50% of waste from the landfills, the City introduced the option of a smaller black waste cart as well as year round organics collection. We’ll continue to promote these eco-friendly initiatives in 2015 as well as explore a three-stream pilot program in local schools.

On the City’s capital side, we will continue to oversee and maintain several facilities throughout the community, including the development of new City-owned facilities. Work is expected to wrap up in the coming months on our new $18.6 million Public Works Facility, which will accommodate an estimated 25 years of growth in Spruce Grove. This new facility will allow our staff to proudly continue providing the high quality service that we experience in Spruce Grove.

Other exciting capital projects for 2015 included completing major renovations to the Elks Hall, which recently reopened, and the start of construction to create City office space in the King Street Plaza that will be the new home of our Planning and Engineering departments.

To assist with developing the vision of Spruce Grove as a modern, urban centre, we enhanced the visual appeal of the Highway 16A corridor. The new eye-catching median strip features a combination of retaining walls and raised planter beds containing trees, shrubs and perennials that will have our city in bloom this spring.

Work will also continue in the area of transportation as we collaborate with our municipal partners to study possible improvements to our existing transit program. This will include planning for transit system growth initiatives such as a GreenTRIP funding application for future bus purchases and a permanent park and ride location that has the potential to feed a future connection to the Acheson Industrial Park.

In regards to the safety of our community, we were able to enhance our protective services through the addition of one new full-time RCMP officer in 2014 with another in 2015. We will also seek to hire additional firefighters and a Fire Prevention Officer. Being a safe city is important to us and we continue to make significant investments in this area.

One of the most exciting initiatives was the announcement made a few months ago about our partnership with the Town of Stony Plain on a new RCMP facility. The co-location of policing services will lead to more efficient service to all residents in the region and it also allows for design and construction cost savings, operational synergies as well as longer term maintenance savings. The concept of the building will see it house municipal RCMP personnel as well as provincial rural and traffic units. Construction is scheduled to start later this year with an anticipated opening in 2017.

We are very proud of the accomplishments and progress made last year, and look forward to taking on new challenges this year. Our hands will certainly be full, but we know that the continued support, collaboration and involvement between Council, City staff, residents, regional partners, community groups, school divisions, and the business and development community will produce great results.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge the staff at the City of Spruce Grove for their commitment to being knowledgeable about the work done across the city and their commitment to serving our citizens. I’d also like to thank my fellow council members for their unyielding dedication to this community. We are a future-focused group that is dedicated to accomplishing great things for the benefit of all who live, work and play in Spruce Grove.

I thank you for your time this evening and for the impact you’ve each had within this city. Spruce Grove is a strong, active and growing community that will continue to make strides toward being a truly exceptional city. Realizing this goal will take a collective effort, and I, for one, look forward to working alongside you to achieve it.

Thank you.
Mayor Stuart Houston