Culture to compete for city cash

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With just eight months to go until the next municipal election, city council has updated its to-do list for the home stretch, and it could result in more dollars for arts and culture.

The annual priorities list includes creating a capital plan for major spending on arts, heritage and culture. After recently budgeting $1.2 million to renovate Grain Elevator Park, and four more phases of a heritage park on the horizon, council will be looking to pick the next “big” project,” said Mayor Nolan Crouse.

“We’ve got several ideas that are all competing for capital,” said Crouse, who delivers his State of the City address today at a chamber luncheon.

The potential list is lengthy and expensive. In addition to the heritage park, the capital plan includes projects like a $10 million children’s cultural centre, a $6 million cultural centre in St. Albert Place, a $2 million expansion to MusĂ©e Heritage Museum, not to mention the stalled branch library idea, and a potential seniors’ centre.

Those culture-related initiatives also have to contend with projects like the upgrade to fire station No. 1, so expect to see a shuffling of the deck when the 10-year plan is reviewed this spring. Council gave a hint about what’s to come when Coun. Carol Watamaniuk — an ardent arts advocate — recently persuaded her peers to halt $500,000 in design work for the fire hall. That work won’t happen before the capital review, if at all.

The priorities list also gives special attention to working out a deal to break ground on either side of Highway 2 in the north. It’s been going on two years since the mayor kick-started talks for a joint-servicing strategy. It’s a process that involves working with a dozen developers and sorting out when lands are serviced and who pays the $15-million cost for the first stage.

Nailing down the details is expected to eat up the rest of council’s term, highlighting the complexity of the challenge.

“The servicing issue, money has been a stumbling block,” conceded Crouse, who though displeased with the delays is not sweating the timeline. The deal will happen by Sept. 1, he says, disputing any notion the lack of shovels in the ground three years after annexation could become an election issue. Of course that’s easy to say for a highly visible and hard-working mayor with no foreseeable challenger for his job come October.

“People realize that this is going to move forward. It hasn’t moved forward as quickly as I wanted but I’m going to keep pushing it.”

Another top goal will see the city take ownership of the White Spruce Forest so the century-old tree stand falls within the park system. The city and current landowner Genstar could finalize talks sometime in the second quarter.

That would allow the city to clamp down on problems like vandalism, bush parties and off-roading.

Speaking of clamping down, council also wants a community standards bylaw, adding teeth to rules that prevent unsightly premises. That would prevent homeowners from storing excess junk in yards and letting houses fall into extreme disrepair. It’s not a widespread problem, but some notable bad apples can be found in Sturgeon Heights and Mission.

A bylaw to ban train whistles is one priority that was cut from last year’s list. Crouse said public reaction has been split and the costs of improving rail crossings is too steep.

Bryan Alary is an editor at the Gazette. Read his Civic Matters blog at the new www.stalbertgazette.com.

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