New year brings Challenge to Penticton

Penticton mayor looking forward to economic growth in the coming year

One of the major news stories for 2012 in Penticton is apt to be back in 2013 as one of the top challenges facing the city.

That would be the Challenge Penticton long-distance triathlon. In August, the city announced that the 2012 Ironman, the 30th, would be the last and the city would now be hosting the first North American Challenge Family race.

“There is some risk being taken by the community and by the city to make sure we can establish the Challenge here, which we are very sure we can,” said Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton. “Once we get through year one, year two, I anticipate there is going to be a substantial buildup as has happened in other communities.”

The difference, Ashton said, is that the race, a major event on Penticton’s tourism schedule, is once again owned by the community, as it was originally, with the majority of the revenues staying in Penticton and the South Okanagan-Similkameen.

“Nobody has the ability to put on a top triathlon race in all of Canada as Penticton and the South Okanagan-Similkameen do. We have done it for 30 years,” said Ashton.  “I think Challenge is going to be a very large competitor in the triathlon business in North America a lot quicker than people think.”

On the economic front, Ashton is hoping 2013 is the start of a turnaround after stagnating for the last few years.

“I am looking to a better year. From what I am reading, America is starting to get some traction and that is going to help us,” said Ashton. “We’re starting to see it in lumber again, homes are picking up, people are starting to build homes again. We are a resource area, if it wasn’t for tourism and resources, there wouldn’t be a lot here.”

Ashton hints there are a couple of large projects on the drawing table to come forward early in the new year, but adds that there are already some housing projects on the go for 2013.

“Sendero Canyon will be full on stream, which allows a whole bunch more building lots in Penticton,” said Ashton. But what is going on in neighbouring communities, like the Penticton Indian Band, can’t be overlooked, he continued.

“(Chief) Clarence Louie (Osoyoos Indian Band) has been incredibly progressive, look what’s taken place there. And I know (Chief) Jonathan Kruger (PIB) and his new council are going to carry that on their work,” said Ashton. “They are starting to spool up and that will make a difference. When I take a look at the Arrowleaf project, which is 300 homes on the west side of the valley, those people are going to shop locally, become involved in the community.”

According to Ashton, the new prison, planned for OIB lands near Oliver, will also have an effect on Penticton. There is going to be 250-300 jobs there, he said, which means 250-300 families looking for homes and places to spend their money.

“I think it is going to be very positive for Penticton. We have, by far, the best amenities in the South Okanagan,” said Ashton, referring to the pool, convention centre, South Okanagan Events Centre, the school system and other facilities. “My gut feeling is we will be a community of choice to live in.”

Though it won’t hit till later in the year, management of the SOEC will also be an issue next year, as Global Spectrum’s contract runs out on Dec. 31, 2013. Ashton said the city will not actively search for a replacement, but plans to put the contract out under a request for proposals.

“Those contracts were signed when the world was a different place. To Global’s credit, they have got on board, they’re making the changes. They know that the contract is coming up in 2013,” said Ashton. “To me, the SOEC is on the right track. It’s a phenomenal building that is going to have huge opportunities in the decades to come.”

However, Ashton expects the SOEC contract will generate considerable interest once it becomes available.

“I am quite sure that alternates will be searching us out. It is a cherry facility, and then you throw in the convention centre and Memorial Arena,” he said. “I am quite sure there is going to be a multitude of people responding to an RFP for that particular property.”