Year round market contentious issue for City council

More information needed before decision is made on project

While everyone on Red Deer City council seems to be in favour of a year-round public market to be located in the old transit barns in Riverlands, how that market would be developed is under debate.

It was a contentious issue at Monday’s council meeting and no final decision was reached. It was tabled so administration can gather more information and the debate will continue at council’s next meeting.

The City looked at a variety of options to develop a year round market and held two public meetings on it.

City administration recommended selling the land into private ownership for development of the market with some City investment.

However, during the extended debate, Councillor Chris Stephan put forward a motion that council go with a different option, which would see the City retain ownership and contract out operations.

The land in question is valued at an estimated $2.674 million and control of the land seemed to be a major concern.

Council voted 4 – 4 on the motion and a tie vote meant it was defeated.

Councillors Stephan, Buck Buchanan, Tara Veer and Frank Wong voted in favour of Stephan’s motion, while Mayor Morris Flewwelling and Councillors Paul Harris, Lynne Mulder and Cindy Jefferies voted against it.

Councillor Dianne Wyntjes was not at the meeting.

Stephan believes the City should retain control of the land if the market is developed with City money.

“While we are investing our own funds we would retain ownership. To me that is much more important to the community than private ownership,” he said. “If we are going to private ownership I don’t think the City should be investing in a market and that option would be acceptable. Otherwise we could keep investing money into something we don’t own. A lot of people in the community don’t find that acceptable and I don’t as well.”

Councillor Harris, a long-time proponent of the market, said there’s been a lot of public consultation on the subject and the public clearly favoured selling the land into private ownership at the last public meeting, which he attended.

“This option has much more innovative and creative approaches to it. I think there are more opportunities with it. I don’t think the other options do,” he said. “We don’t know what the developer could come back to us with, they might come back with plans to maybe include a condo complex, for example, or a theatre on the second floor. Those would all fit into our Greater Downtown Action Plan, as it is currently written.

“That would move our agenda forward and we want to see that happen. We want to see that development, we want to see that economic activity and I’d like to see that creative ability come from the community first.”

Harris added, “That land is so valuable in the downtown if we don’t utilize it properly we won’t have the economic benefit that we want (in our downtown). It could attract new business around it. When a public market develops all kinds of things spring up around outside of it, like restaurants, a brew pub, it becomes a centre of growth.”

Councillor Veer said although she likes the idea of a year round market, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the business case for the project.

“A key reservation I have at this point is making a sale of those lands. To me it seems premature,” she said. “Riverlands is a prime public asset and I am hesitant to let go of those lands without having full information.”

City administration will gather more information about the options, especially about economic development possibilities around a possible market, for council’s next meeting set to be held on Feb. 22.