Mayor Bruce Banman reflected on his first year in office and spoke in optimistic tones about the city’s economic future during his annual address to the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
The luncheon, held at the Ramada Plaza and Conference Centre, drew a full house.
“We have many reasons to be hopeful and optimistic,” Banman said. “But we can’t be complacent.”
The mayor identified ongoing taxpayer subsidies of the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre as being “the single biggest challenge” he faces.
The AESC ran a deficit of $1.7 million for building expenses last year, with an additional $1.76 million going to cover the Abbotsford Heat’s financial shortfall for 2011/12. The AHL hockey team has a 10-year supply fee agreement which guarantees a $5.7 million break-even budget.
Banman said one of the most productive things the Chamber of Commerce members can do for the community right now is to invite friends, family and business associates to Heat games and entertainment acts at the arena.
“We are, as we speak, actively working and looking for solutions,” he said, speaking of the AESC deficit. “But we can’t do this alone.”
With Abbotsford projected to undergo major population growth over the next 25 years, Banman emphasized the importance of planning and vision. He spoke of the need to increase densification, and to provide “sustainable, flexible” transit systems in partnership with neighbouring municipalities.
“A win for the region is a win for us,” he said.
Banman pointed to a series of major developments, including the High Street shopping centre project – the largest mall to be built in the past 30 years between Calgary and Vancouver – as signs of the city’s economic health.
He alluded to a recent Metro Vancouver report indicating that region’s available industrial land has almost entirely been consumed as another positive indicator.
“That is stellar news for us,” he said, touting the opportunity to attract more industry to Abbotsford. “But we need to make sure we get the word out . . . Let people know that we have lands that are available and that we have a freight truck load of opportunities available.”
On Nov. 19 of last year, the same night Abbotsford voters replaced veteran politician George Peary with Banman in the mayor’s chair, they also rejected the Stave Lake water referendum by a resounding 74 per cent margin. The plan would have seen the city enter a public-private partnership (P3) to create a new water source and treatment plant.
Banman lauded citizens for reducing their water consumption by an “astonishing” 25 per cent this year, which has given the municipal government “breathing room” as it evaluates new options for water infrastructure.
“I applaud the community for the diligence they’ve demonstrated,” he said.
Banman also noted Abbotsford’s partnership with Mission is back on track, and is seeking to establish what the “true needs” are in terms of water supply.
Banman admitted he was “a little surprised” to knock off Peary in the mayoral race, but said the past year has been “an amazing ride.”