Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun addressed everything from the city’s pandemic recovery and booming growth to recent controversies around council’s code of conduct and plans for Tradex during a virtual conversation Wednesday morning (June 2).
The session, titled From Recovery to Resilience, was held on the city’s YouTube channel and was hosted by Country 107.1’s Jessica Banks.
Braun fielded prepared questions read by Banks and business/industry leaders, as well as live written questions from viewers.
Braun said several sectors of the city’s economy fared well during the pandemic, such as agriculture, manufacturing and construction. But the hospitality sector was hit hard.
He said the city is working to support those businesses in ways such as using parking lanes in the historic downtown area for restaurant patio space and launching the new Passport to Patios campaign.
Braun said there are several new projects underway that will be a boost to the city, including the Vancouver Canucks’ farm team coming to Abbotsford Centre and ongoing construction projects.
These include the 900-unit Emco Developments project near Sevenoaks Shopping Centre, the Vicarro Ranch project involving 1,400 residential units, the widening of Sumas Way to the border, the Vye Road overpass and intersection widening along Fraser Highway.
Braun said these projects will held address record growth in the area, which reached 162,000 people this year.
He said the city will continue to look at ways to attract investment to the area, including the Abbotsford Tech District that has been proposed. This is a revamped version of the previous “We Town” concept that had been envisioned – and turned down by council – for the McKee Peak and Auguston area, creating space for 18,000 technology workers, along with housing.
The new tech district proposal is a more phased-in approach, with immediate plans that are about eight per cent the size of We Town. The first phase is the development of an “agritech accelerator” with University of the Fraser Valley as its education partner.
Braun said the city will also need to address other revenue streams, including how it deals with structural deficits. This later led to specific questions from viewers about the recent announcement related to Tradex.
The city announced in March that it wanted to look at options aimed at “transforming the property into a revenue-generating asset.” Earlier this week, council approved hiring Devencore Company Ltd. – a real estate advisory and brokerage business – to explore what businesses might be interested in managing Tradex.
The facility is currently operated by Tourism Abbotsford, and holds several trade shows each year. All revenue generated is reinvested into the property and Tourism Abbotsford operations.
Braun said during the virtual conversation the money that goes back into the building doesn’t cover all the costs. He said Tourism Abbotsford has rented Tradex on a lease, and the city receives “zero cents per square foot” for the building.
“We have entered into a contract with Devencore to help us understand what could be possible in the building. It may end up still being events … but we cannot continue to just give a building up for nothing to an entity that makes millions of dollars in revenue,” Braun said.
Other viewer questions asked why the city did not come out in support of the recent India farmers’ protests, as some other cities have done.
Braun said this is an international issue that “falls to our federal government.”
“I get that we have lots of connections but there’s all sorts of things happening around the globe that people would like us to chime in on. I maintain that we need to stay in our lane and focus on the stuff that belongs to Abbotsford,” he said.
Several questions addressed the recent controversy surrounding social media posts by Coun. Brenda Falk and the city’s code of conduct. In the most recent one, Falk shared a post that many believed equated pandemic restrictions to Nazi Germany.
Braun reiterated his previous comments that the code of conduct does not cover comments or posts made on councillors’ personal social media accounts.
“I have told people that if you have an issue – and I understand that they (the posts) are disturbing to people in our community – you need to go and talk to the councillor in question,” he said.
The conversation can be viewed on the City of Abbotsford’s YouTube channel or website (abbotsford.ca).