Westwind Centre Development- More Information Needed!

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Westwind Centre (SEC) in Spruce Grove

There was huge excitement when the city announced the concept of the Westwind Centre earlier this year. The $79 million dollar multi-use sport and event centre was going to meet the needs of our growing city. And while the honeymoon has lasted for some, the reality for others has sunk in.

Quite frankly, we just don’t have enough information on the project and this should concern us all. If you ask me if I’m in favour of the new centre, my truthful answer is “I just don’t know.” But I approach the project with cautious optimism.

Check out my video about the Multi-Use Sport and Event Centre (SEC) on my Facebook page.

We have numerous problems we have to look at before any of us can really say we’re in favour or against it. If at this moment, you are set in either the “yes” or “no” camp, then you’re looking at it from a subjective lens (which is totally fine, but not as a candidate for council). The decision has to be made objectively, based on facts and not based on preference.

The residents of Spruce Grove have simply not been given enough facts or pieces of information to know whether this is a potential boom or bust for us.

The proposed development is the Westwind Centre, on a parcel of land just east of Century Road and south of the Yellowhead. While the SEC centre is expected to be $79m, the development around it is supposed to bring in $230m worth of economic activity.

 

Multi-Use Sport and Event Centre (SEC)

This building project, at $79m dollars is by far one of the largest, if not the largest builds this city has seen. It is also a boatload of money. Where exactly is the money coming from? The number one concern I hear speaking with residents is their disbelief that there will be zero impact on taxes or that this building will not cost taxpayers money. It is a fair concern to have. Now, the city had $55m already allocated in its capital plan to build twin arenas so the additional $24m is still the question mark to make it a $79m building. However, will the $55m not be taxpayer dollars? Are we being honest about this project? And who is paying the additional $24m in building costs? My first question is- why were we thinking of building a $55m building that only housed two rinks? Is it really that expensive and necessary to spend that much money for two more rinks?

This Westwind Centre building cannot be a “if you build it, they will come” project. There is lots of room for error here. Aside from the rinks being used for the obvious, what else can they be used for during non-peak times? (a complaint I’ve heard is that we’re building more rinks for peak hours when our rinks sit empty or not heavily used during the daytime). Have we investigated the interest from groups looking to use it as a 5,000 person seat venue or is this just wishful thinking? We cannot possibly think that suddenly attendance at the Saints games will go from the hundreds to  5,000 all because we build a nicer rink. Some argue trade shows are a dying marketing tool, so how much can we count on these types of shows to pay the bills at the SEC?

Who decided what is going in the building? It seems this project has been a dream for some for nearly a decade but we’re only hearing about it now? How did we consult and engage our residents to see what they want in a centre like this? Are we even meeting the needs of our residents with priorities facilities (besides the rinks, a second pool is desperately needed). Is there meeting space for our local association chapters and groups to host their meet ups? Do we have opportunities to look at other rec like facilities (squash courts and such).

The public has not been consulted nearly enough and I would call it an abject failure on the city and city council on how this all came about.

There has been too few open houses. Many more are needed. Very little communication and advertising has been done. Four social media posts is ridiculous and cannot in any way shape or form, be a statistically viable indicator whether residents are in favour or against the project.

My profession is marketing and communications. I analyse data all the time. I’m responsible for social media and marketing for the largest online university in Canada, and if I tried to pass off four social media posts and their reactions to it as statistically viable to the Board of Governors, I’d have been laughed out of the room, angrily.

Don’t even get me started on Facebook algorithms and timing of posts. But the city could have and should have done a lot more. In fact, they can do a lot more- more paid social to reach more than those who like the page (let’s hit as many Spruce Grove residents as we can on social), more advertising not just in the local paper, but let’s put up road signs indicating open houses and put the price tag up there to peak interest in the issue. Simply put, we can do more and council should demand more.

Lastly, if we’re building a $79m building that can hold up to 5,000 people for an event, how confident are we that an emergency can be dealt with appropriately? Council voted on renovating the one fire station Spruce Grove has rather than do a feasibility study to determine if and when a second station should be built. The Westwind Centre is out of the acceptable response time. What if we had to evacuate 5,000 from a venue- could we react appropriately? We can’t be building on all these fancy developments without thinking how we can best protect them.

Further Westwind Centre Development

Overall, the Westwind Centre development could be upwards of $300 million dollars. The city expects around $230m in development should the SEC be approved. On the surface, this is exciting news and exciting for our tax base. Economic development is always a good thing, right?

Well let’s examine this further.

Right now, a lot of what we think is going in there is rumour and innuendo. We’ve heard a major hotel developer is ready to stick shovels in the ground upon approval of the centre. Restaurants are sure to follow. More retails and commercial. People are excited that one of the first announced tenants within the development is Tim Horton’s. Now we can all stop and get our double doubles on our way to work!

But nothing is concrete and there are questions. The business community has questions and valid concerns about this development.

What type of development will there be? Retail? Commercial? Big anchor tenants? What will the rent/lease be? Will existing Spruce Grove businesses be able to afford to expand or move their businesses into the areas?

Having spoken with a number of local businesses, the consultation has been minimal. There is concern that this type of development will shutter businesses elsewhere. Because the development is on the edge of town, it’s possible those visiting the centre will not come into the downtown or visit other places where local businesses has been set up for years? What’s the plan to draw visitors into the community? How does this impact plans for downtown revitalization?

We need more consultation with businesses and our local associations and have the backing and support of business with this project.

More Information Needed

I just don’t know where I stand yet simply because I don’t have enough to make an objective decision and support what is right for the city of Spruce Grove. I have to base my support on facts.

It sounds like city administration is looking to delay the process and the new council won’t be voting on this in January, 2018. I certainly hope this is the case. There is a lot of work to do, a lot of answers to seek and we need the time to do this right. It’s not just a $79m decision, it’s a $300m one. If we do this, let’s do it right, with the residents and businesses behind this.