Penticton’s newly minted mayor says lakefront and downtown revitalization remain priorities for city hall in 2015.
With the majority of councillors and himself new to their roles, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said it’s early to be setting out long-term goals for 2015.
He thinks this council came in on a very strong mandate. The community wanted to see change, they wanted to see some younger blood on council.
“I think council wants to get their feet a little bit more wet before they brand or expand any priorities to be our own,” said Jakubeit. “I think almost all of us platformed on some element of economic vibrancy and that is probably going to be our No. 1 collective priority.”
There have already been signs of that focus on council, with conditional support being given to Colleen Pennington’s $803,000 economic development budget, more than double the projected $304,000 for 2014.
“You can’t just talk about it, say it’s a good idea without investing in it. And if you want to get people who are working up north to have Penticton as their home base, you have to tell them somehow,” said Jakubeit.
Part of that money will go to hosting the GoMedia conference, which is coming to Penticton on Sept. 27. This is the flagship conference for the Canadian Tourism Commission and draws Canadian and international bloggers, writers, editors and broadcasters from CTC’s 11 key markets to hear insider tips from top Canadian travel businesses.
“These are the movers and shakers in the tourism world. It’s actually a little stressful. If one of these writers does not have a positive experience, that’s all they write about,” said Jakubeit. “We want to wine, dine and wow them.”
Jakubeit said that Penticton needs to put on its Sunday best, and give visitors a realistic and authentic experience of what the city and region has to offer.
“We have always had a reputation for lots of volunteers, lots of enthusiasm. We want that to resonate when, not just GoMedia, but all the festivals and events are going on,” he said.
Looking back at 2014, Jakubeit said the city’s economic investment zone program was an important factor. Though the zones have been in place for a few years, Jakubeit said they started to show results this year.
“They are starting to pay us some dividends. In terms of creating job opportunities or investment in our community, they are pivotal,” said Jakubeit, adding that the rules for the industrial economic development zones were modified in 2014 to provide added job incentives.
After the initial five-year tax hiatus on improvements, a company that provided full-time employment for 20 or more employees is now eligible for another five years.
“If you can show that you have created more jobs, then we will give you further incentive. And of course, that is great for our local economy, to have a bunch of new, good paying jobs,” said Jakubeit.
Jakubeit said he also got a lot of compliments on the Lakeshore walkway. Though the bulk of the work was done in 2013, the project was completed in early 2014, with an official opening in July.
Though the makeover of the walkway along Okanagan Lake from the Peach to the SS Sicamous was a contentious issue at times, Jakubeit said everyone seems to approve of the result.
“It is getting a lot more use,” he said. “It is something the community is proud of and city hall should be proud that we were bold enough to push that through.”
Likewise, Jakubeit said downtown revitalization is having a positive effect.
“I am happy that downtown revite is still a priority. It’s moving along, we are starting to see more development downtown as well, not just beautification,” said Jakubeit, referring to the construction of Bad Tattoo Brewery and the relocation of the Cannery Brewing Company to the downtown.
“There is a new industry potentially starting to blossom with distilleries and craft breweries. That will help augment our burgeoning wine industry,” said Jakubeit, adding the renewed interest in the downtown area is a good sign.
“A lot of people gauge the downtown as the dipstick of a community’s vitality,” he said. “Development is an ongoing theme.”