March 2nd, 2021

City Notebook: City dives into intriguing real estate market

By Medicine Hat News Opinion on February 20, 2021.

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

It’s a real phenomenon, looking at real estate listings during the pandemic.

And there’s been no shortage of wondering about why, during economic turmoil and job uncertainty, home prices continue to rise across Canada.

It might be coincidence, but no less deliberate that the City of Medicine Hat is getting into the real estate business.

And how!

With a new municipal development plan in hand, a new “waterfront” vision for downtown in the offing and a spate of development subsidies at the ready, you would think the reworked Invest Medicine Hat office is ready to film a “million-dollar listing MedHat edition.”

They have a new location on Fourth Street, by the way, and according to many are promoting the heck out of our town in southeast Alberta as the place to develop.

This comes as the city is getting out of the gas business, and earlier this month was contemplating an exit from power generation. The payout from a plant sale would have boosted their already notable profile as an investor.

Medicine Hat has always been in the land business – much to the chagrin of private sector critics – taking tracts turned over for back taxes as far back as the 1920s and grading them into lots costing a $100,000 or more a pop.

Now, they’re happy to promote the general development industry through an in-house economic development department.

Such previous operations concentrated on agriculture, heavy industry, or logistics – Lethbridge unveiled its logistics strategy this month to match a substantial ag attraction effort – and the new IMH gives that stuff a nod, too.

But development is where it’s at, so to speak, despite obvious reasons for caution.

The commercial property market will undoubtedly come under immense stress at some point in the not too distant future from the online commerce challenge to brick-and-mortar store fronts.

Can Alberta’s 10th largest city really expect another commercial building boom?

The city is developing its own industrial park in the northwest – a place and sector where top officials feel the natural advantage as a patient investor can pay off. Mind you, in 2021 the province will badly need to be seen as active on the economy file and will likely rollout its awaited plug-and-pay strategy for pre-approved industrial zones.

In terms of housing, this week the city unveiled its new development attraction project, including a tax abatement program for major projects and a host of residential subsidies.

Over two years, as much as $3 million in grants could go toward putting more residential space in downtown-ish areas. As well, $10,000 per foundation on the first 40 home starts each year is a trade-off against renewing an off-site levy subsidy that likely cost taxpayers more money. It could never be reformed it seemed, as the boom and bust economy provided “not the right time” to ever address the issue.

As for the private sector’s opinion in all this, it is generally pleased about an apparent about face by the city on the latest phase of Saamis Phase 7.

It was sold at a 40 per cent discount to Lansdowne Equity Ventures last year, and they’ll attempt to sell what was held up as a problem child of city planning, and a great example of why the city shouldn’t be in the business.

But, then again, everybody will like hearing they’ve been proven correct.

A look ahead

The provincial legislature resumes sitting next week with the budget to be tabled.

City committee work will see the outline of an “acknowledgement statement” drafted by administrators to note “recognition and respect” of First Nation treaties when conducting city business. In another spring note, the local Western Hockey League season is set to begin next weekend.

100 years ago

The Alberta Conservative Party was dealing with a deep rift among its MLAs and a move to oust leader Albert Ewing, the News reported in February 1921.

A leadership vote among the MLAs was decided by a 7-6 vote, with MLA Nelson Spencer of Medicine Hat supporting Ewing’s “Old Line Conservatives.”

At the same time, Ewings introduced a motion calling for the province to wrest control of natural resources from Ottawa.

Locally, the funeral for Robert Porter was attended by “nearly every oldtimer” in the Medicine Hat region, a denotation for pre-1900 era settlers.

The average wheat yield per acre across Canada was 14 1/2 bushels in the 1920 harvest, it was announced.

Taylor Bros. Groceries got into the spirit with a “guess how many beans” contest involving a massive crock placed in their window. Proceeds from the 10-cents per guess contest would support the News’s campaign to build a civic gymnasium.

Collin Gallant covers city politics and a variety of topics for the News. Reach him at 403-528-5664 or via email at cgallant@medicinehatnews.com

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