(August 14, 2017, Fort McMurray, AB) – Don Scott, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) Mayoral candidate, believes the revitalization of downtown Fort McMurray is a key priority for the next municipal government and will require new strategies to address.
“The revitalization of the downtown area is not an issue unique to Fort McMurray,” said Scott. “Many other communities struggle with this issue as their suburban areas expand and the direction of the downtown area is uncertain. In Fort McMurray, this was exacerbated by the property expropriations conducted by the RMWB, as the direction at that point was to develop a large-scale catalyst project in the downtown core that would serve to encourage the growth of other businesses in the area. As the development of a downtown catalyst project did not materialize and as we have seen other changes in our region including a change in economic situation and projected population growth, we find ourselves with a downtown area in desperate need of attention and little concrete direction to address the current state.”
Scott believes it is vital for the municipality to pursue a new strategy for revitalizing the downtown core, including exploring the concept of developing the urban core into a centre of service delivery, urban park spaces, niche retail outlets, restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses more typical of downtown areas in communities similar in size to Fort McMurray.
“Barring significant private investment in a large-scale catalyst project, I believe it is crucial to develop a plan and strategy that would see the urban core return to the kind of area where residents access services such as doctor’s offices, dental clinics and social profit organizations. In addition, the encouragement of other niche businesses, such as specialty stores, restaurants and retail outlets can contribute to the development of a downtown core that is built on the concept of socialization and recreation, which is typical of the downtown core of most similar-sized communities. This area could include the development of urban parks, expansion of pedestrian pathways and bike trails and increased recreation opportunities, enhancing the downtown experience. There is also potential to develop a branded downtown entertainment district to ensure the downtown core is active during the evening hours, and given the success of local urban, farmer and flea markets there is an opportunity to explore the concept of a permanent public market space. We cannot wait indefinitely for private investment in a catalyst project to appear and must develop a plan for downtown Fort McMurray that suits the needs and desires of our residents.”
In order to achieve this, Scott believes the RMWB must revisit the 2016 Land Planning and Development Committee Proposal that suggested four different opportunities for downtown redevelopment, including the options to dispose of the municipally owned property to private investors and/or pursue municipal/private partnerships for development.
“Small businesses seeking to operate in this region have historically faced significant challenges,” said Scott. “This included cost of commercial space, as well as a municipal permitting process which has been described to me by new and aspiring business owners as slow and laden with red-tape. While there is increased commercial space availability, we must address all of the other remaining challenges in order to encourage and foster the development of small business, and seek to work closely with them to develop a downtown core in Fort McMurray that embraces both business owners and residents.”
Scott said: “We also need to pursue an aggressive strategy to attract investors, businesses and entrepreneurs that may wish to invest in the region by ensuring they understand that Fort McMurray is open for business and supportive of new business opportunities. In addition, should an opportunity present itself in which private investors would like to pursue development of a large-scale catalyst project in the downtown core, I believe this is an option worthy of consideration as long as it makes sense for the taxpayers of this region.”
“We truly have an opportunity to build an urban centre in Fort McMurray of which to be proud,” said Scott. “With developed spaces already in place such as Jubilee Plaza, Snye Park and Borealis Park we are taking advantage of the natural beauty of the region as well as some of the land currently available; in addition the planned seniors development at Willow Square will add new energy and vibrancy to the downtown area. To ensure success, we would also work to increase bylaw and RCMP presence in the areas where residents gather downtown to ensure an enhanced sense of safety and security. If we can pursue this direction we can seek to develop a strong, vibrant downtown reflective of this community’s diversity. Working with businesses already in place, future developers, interested private investors, entrepreneurs and all other stakeholders, I believe we can implement a sound strategy that fits Fort McMurray and our region. We are now in a better position to evaluate the future in terms of potential population and economic growth, and as such tailor our plans for the urban core to ensure it meets the needs of the region now and in the future. Through setting a new direction we can build towards a stronger tomorrow for our communities and region.”
To learn more about Don Scott’s platform or to get involved in his campaign for a stronger tomorrow, please visit donscott.ca.