Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz offered a rosy picture of Chilliwack in her ‘State of the City’ talk Thursday at a Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce luncheon in the Best Western Rainbow Country Inn.
Economists had predicted the economy “would be very grim” in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008.
“What they told us was that it would take until the summer of 2012 to recover,” Gaetz said. “But what we didn’t know was that Chilliwack was doing very well in this regard.”
Chilliwack is one of the top eight cities singled out for growth by the Conference Board of Canada recently. The Mayor said she was happy to share details from the CBOC’s Mid-sized Cities Outlook for 2013, which leaned on Statistics Canada data.
It revealed Chilliwack as a growing city, with job growth greater or equal to 3 per cent, and the GDP grew by an average of slightly more than six per cent in the period between 2005 and 2012.
“These things don’t happen by fluke, nor do they happen by the wisdom of one person,” she said.
She mapped out the ways the city works to create a climate for local business to flourish, from low property taxes and inexpensive business tax multiples, to the work done by CEPCO to bring new businesses to town.
Downtown was described as being in “an awkward phase right now” with its array of closed storefronts and fresh demolition sites. Gaetz assured the small crowd that good things are happening downtown nonetheless.
“There are parts of it that don’t look very good because we’re starting to take buildings down and get the land ready for development,” she said.
She was talking about the deliberate strategy of land assembly and consolidation being followed as part of the Chilliwack DT Plan, which one chamber member later warmly complimented the city on.
Gaetz took on the critics, too.
“Some people in our community have referred to it as missing teeth in the downtown, and I have a reply to that.
“Have you never seen a young, gangly kid with missing teeth? They grow back! It’s important to remember there is no way to wave a magic wand over the downtown to fix everything.”
When someone asked her about her own future vision for downtown, she described a vibrant and thriving core, with residential space over retail, somewhere where she could move her own dear mother into, somewhere people would want to come to shop and eat.
She invited people to see more on the downtown vision at chilliwackdowntownplan.ca.
“It’s starting to have new life breathed into it,” she said, adding people have to continue talking about a better downtown and dreaming it, to realize the vision.
“We can make this happen. But it won’t be because developers are benevolent. It will be because it will be the right place to build.”
The city is doing everything it can to make it happen, she noted, including incentives for developers.
“We’ll start with that one block on Yale Road, the one from Young Road down to Nowell.”
The subject of the old Paramount Theatre site came up.
“Some people are asking what is going to happen to the Paramount site and I have no idea right now.”
In terms of temporary use however, there are preliminary discussions started on the possible use of the site as a garden to grow vegetables for the Community Corrections’ Bowls of Hope program, she said.
Gaetz also took on the topic of Metro Vancouver’s waste burning plans, showing a video that stressed the dangers of fly ash caused when toxic like paint and plastic are burned, and the dioxins and furans produced.
“Keep talking to your MLAs on this. We are continuing to fight this.”
Gaetz called incineration as the “old way of doing business,” adding there are some airsheds not suited for the waste-to-energy technology.
The mayor touched on the OCP review process and encouraged people to go online to www.PlaceSpeak.com to offer feedback. Community cafes are set for June 5 and 6 in the Sardis elementary gym and Evergreen Hall respectively.
Everyone is encouraged to check out the new bike park at Island 22 and the new Sardis library.