One the coolest things on Facebook are the ‘year in review’ slideshows and they encouraged me to reflect on a lot of the great things that took place over the last year.
Two blocks of the downtown core have been upgraded and what an improvement the wider sidewalks and other changes have made.
Another big accomplishment was ensuring the Casino stays in Penticton. The new deal represents over $100 million to the community over the next 40 years. This is over and above the $25 million construction project and the addition of 150 new jobs.
The Lakeside Hotel is also expanding with the construction of a new building with 70 new rooms as well upgrades to their existing rooms.
If you drive around town you will notice a tremendous amount of building activity, in fact, we will hit an all-time record with over $195 million in construction value for 2016.
Construction of the Patient Care Tower at the hospital has also reached a major milestone with the addition of a second crane, so some desperately needed healthcare improvements are well on the way.
It is important to value economic development because a strong local economy leads to a strong local community. It sounds cliché and you often hear politicians beat that drum, but consider the impact on our community of our local population staying right here instead of heading north or out of province for work.
This year was one of the first in a long time where I have noticed more consumer confidence. I feel families are stronger not just because more parents are working local, but there is more time for extracurricular activities and parents have time to get involved in the community.
Besides economic success, we also focused on making the community more affordable. We are adding housing units for the working poor and for those below the poverty line. We have an energy retrofit loan program to help homeowners upgrade their homes to make them more energy efficient. We made changes to our disconnect policy to help those who may be struggling with the basic necessities to pay their electric bill. The socioeconomic realities of our region indicate that there is tremendous need to address myriad of social issues and we are fortunate to have many non-profit and faith-based groups helping those in need.
This year also had its fair share of drama. We had the controversy over Skaha Park which was finally settled with only the marina expansion being approved and no waterslide or loss of green space. We had a strong lobby against wine in grocery stores, pay parking and some development opportunities that had difficulty garnering neighbourhood support.
Our tourism promotion groups saw personality clashes and dysfunction, which led to our undiscovered potential not being utilized, marketed or converted into memorable visitor experiences. The long awaited move to one tourism entity, Travel Penticton, is exciting news. New executive director Thom Tischek is now on board and I feel we are now finally poised to make Penticton a premiere travel destination and hopefully transition visitors into repeat visitors, future investors and residents, whether in retirement or to raise a family.
2017 will be exciting as we continue the development momentum, but it is not all sunshine and lollipops as we have several big issues to start to tackle.
Top of the list is to start creating a plan to deal with our infrastructure deficit and how to proceed with repair or replacement of Memorial Arena. I hope to have a little less drama in 2017 and more focus on the things the community can embrace, get excited about, and renew our sense of community pride. After all, Penticton is a place to stay forever and is perhaps the best places in Canada, if not the world to call home.