Cranbrook mayor reflects on 2019, looks ahead to new year

With the turnover into 2020, Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt reflected on the year that was and the challenges and opportunities in the months ahead.

Looking back at last year, Cranbrook held its first annual Winter Blitzville — a newly created downtown festival — in February featuring high-flying snowmobile stunts, a rail jam, a DJ and stage and a fireworks finale.

Downtown businesses and mobile vendors also got in on the action, as thousands of people filtered through the west end of Baker Street during the event.

Pratt said the event ‘far exceeded our expectations’ and is looking forward to the second edition of the event, which is fast approaching on Feb. 15.

“We’re expecting it’s going to be as big or bigger because I think the people that watched it last year are going to come back and those that missed out on it are going to come,” Pratt said.

Over the course of the last year, the city also continued to invest in their capital works program, said Pratt. A few specific projects included a storm trunk upgrade at Kootenay Street and 4th Ave, water main reconstruction at an alley on 15th Ave, as well as road and water main reconstruction on 8th Ave and 13th Ave.

A new schedule of projects is currently in the works for this year, which will be prioritized based on an asset management plan that catalogued the current state and lifespan all of the city’s infrastructure.

“We do have some streets where we have a reasonable expectation that we can just repave it without the danger of total blow up on the water and sewer lines,” Pratt said.

The city has been grappling with the development of 100 acres of property formerly owned by Tembec. Purchased in the summer two years ago, the city is working to develop the property to attract investors interested in setting up business operations and leasing the land.

In late 2018, the city handed over keys to a building for C&C Wood Products, while Caliper Machinery is also leasing a parcel, both of which have created a total of roughly 50 jobs, according to Pratt.

“That’s more jobs that have been created by any economic development officer in the history of Cranbrook, combined,” said Pratt.

He touted the ongoing development of Idlewild Park and the installation of new amenities such as the playground new fishing and viewing docks, and a paved pathway around the lake, which was completed with help from JCI Kootenay and the Cranbrook Rotary Club.

The mayor also singled out the success of Sam Steele Days and Summer Sounds, which featured live music every Saturday night at Rotary Park over the summer, drawing ever-increasing crowds.

“It’s nice to see how it’s evolved now over the years. That’s huge, and I think it’s only going to get bigger,” Pratt said.

With the loss of the Kootenay Ice relocating to Winnipeg, Western Financial Place opened up availability for more concerts, and Pratt said more are on the way this year.

However, next hockey season junior hockey will return to the arena, as the Cranbrook Bucks will join the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) for its debut season.

“That’s going to be good for the citizens, for sure. It’s going to be a good, entertaining brand of hockey and it’s really going to help the long term sustainability of Western Financial Place,” Pratt said.

Speaking of Western Financial Place, the city had to replace the roof structures over the aquatic centre in the fall and will be continuing with work on the arena barrel roof into the new year.

The entire project is estimated at $5.3 million.

“The big one that cost us a lot of money was the repair of the aquatic centre roof.,” Pratt said. “Unfortunately we ran into some original construction flaws, which added to the cost of it, but those have been recognized and fixed, so going forward, we should be in really good shape for that.”

Looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities going forward, Pratt said progress is being made on the housing front, pointing to a 39-unit development on Hurry Ave, the seniors facility at Kootenay Street Village, a modular home development on 30th Ave.

Pratt said there’s been significant progress with the Legacy Lookout development at Wildstone Golf Course and noted the city is also currently analyzing a new proposal of 292 units at a property on Innes Ave.

“In a couple years, we shouldn’t have a housing problem here,” Pratt said.

Housing is linked to the development of the Tembec industrial lands, as companies are always asking where their workforce is going to live, Pratt added.

In the coming months, the city will be installing deep utility services on the industrial lands, with a project budgeted at $2.5 million.

The vision has been to lease parcels to investors and companies wishing to set up operations, however, land sales are increasingly being considered by the city as well.

While there isn’t an ‘anchor’ tenant that Pratt has in mind, people he’s talked with like the logistics of the area, and the proximity of the Elk Valley mines and U.S. border.

“We know the type of industry that would locate there, that would look good. So some of it, there’s some big people that service the mining industry, not only in the Elk Valley, but in Montana, over into the West Kootenays and into the Pacific Northwest, so we’re located logistically, we’re right in the centre of it,” Pratt said.

“So we’re looking at attracting some people who are going to be servicing the mining industry and we’ve got some interest from some international people that are looking to move into Canada. Of course, at first, they always look at the Lower Mainland, because that’s natural, but it’s getting so costly down there now that it’s not even considered.”

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