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Slow development has cost St. Albert, business advocate says

Real estate expert tells city staff, business owners that city needs to quickly add industrial space to attract investors
The city invited Cory Wosnak, a managing director with Avison Young, to speak at its annual Business Breakfast. RILEY TJOSVOLD/St. Albert Gazette

Slow progress on St. Albert’s major industrial projects has cost the city investment dollars, according to Cory Wosnak, principal and managing director with Avison Young.

Wosnak told city staff and business owners on March 14 at the city’s annual business breakfast that investors are unsure “how prepared St. Albert is to get its prime industrial development opportunities ready for developers.”

Lakeview Business District, which received approval for funding in 2017 and is still awaiting infrastructure, is one of council’s top advocacy priorities.

St. Albert has had a reputation of being “reactive” instead of “proactive” when it comes to delivering “faster opportunities,” Wosnak said.

“Developers are not interested in deploying their capital in this market until this infrastructure and underground servicing work is complete,” he said. “There are other markets where they can deploy capital faster … The industrial marketplace is the darling of the Edmonton economy. The way the industrial marketplace goes, that’s the way the greater Edmonton economy goes.”

Growing the city’s industrial space can also take some of the property tax burden off residents, making the city a more desirable place to live, he said.

As Alberta’s population booms, St. Albert can diversify its residential base from a mature family community to one that also includes singles and younger professionals, he said.

But it must add rental space.

“Chasing home ownership is just not as appealing as it once was,” he said, as more young people and newcomers are seeking rentals.

St. Albert should be prioritizing multifamily residential and industrial space, he said.

“I would challenge the city to stand up to NIMBYism,” he said.

St. Albert’s proximity to Edmonton and short commute times relative to cities like Toronto are appealing to people moving here from out of province, he said. And the city’s lower crime rate relative to Edmonton is attractive for both businesses and residents.

“Nobody wants to see their neighbouring cities struggle with safety and vulnerable populations,” he said. “But while there's a crisis, there's an opportunity.”

St. Albert’s short development permit processing times (4.7 days) are a huge advantage that the city can use to market itself.

However, he said, the city must “compete like the private sector” and “sell itself much harder.”

After the event, Mayor Cathy Heron said she thought Wosnak was an “excellent speaker” and that “it was nice to see that those leasing real estate agents recognize the value in communities outside of Edmonton and Calgary.”

But she didn’t agree with his assessment that St. Albert has been “reactive” rather than “proactive” in growing its market and being an inviting place for new businesses and development.  

“Reputations and reality are always different,” she said. “Hopefully, we’re shedding that reputation.”

Changes to the city’s land use bylaw to allow for more density and different types of housing, as well as the removal of parking regulations have sparked much new development, she said.

Growing the city’s industrial space is challenging because the city has “run out of land,” she said.

“There’s no land left in Campbell, and there’s no land left in Riel or South Riel,” she said. “We really need to do Lakeview [Business District] to allow for that next generation of industrial land.”

Heron is confident that St. Albert will continue to grow into a more attractive place for young professionals, and she noted that more residents are working in the city instead of commuting to Edmonton.

“I think we're moving away from the sleepy bedroom community to a self-sufficient, sustainable community.”

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