A Small City Making Big Plans

City of Mission

Mission is on a mission. We spoke with Mayor Ted Adlem, Chief Administration Officer Ken Bjorgaard, and Economic Development Officer Stacey Crawford about the exciting prospects for the town and about how Mission strives to be the most business friendly community in Canada.

The face of Mission is about to change dramatically over the next ten years as it enacts its plans to grow and take advantage of its available resources. The current focus is on downtown planning and renewal, the first portion of which should be completed by the end of March, 2013. “Downtown has several buildings that serve as good examples of what we would like to see in our redevelopment efforts, while others may need to be completely rebuilt,” explains Mayor Adlem. “It’s a very comprehensive planning exercise so we will be looking at infrastructure, traffic flow, parking, redevelopment of property and also the creation of a gathering place in the form of a public square.” This is a major development opportunity and just the beginning of the downtown’s revitalization.

Mission is also looking at redeveloping its waterfront. One unique feature of the plan entails a floating barge that would float an upscale restaurant on the Fraser River. The popular “McBarge” from Expo 86 – a McDonald’s restaurant serving food to patrons of the event – was purchased in 1992 by a local developer. In addition to the barge, the waterfront development would also include a pub, marina, and a float plane terminal to provide daily flights between Mission and the harbours in Victoria, Nanaimo, and potentially Vancouver. As an added bonus, the development has been approved by Canada Customs to be a port of call for daily flights to Seattle, Washington. “This would be just the beginning, and other things could blossom out of it.”

Council has provided 3rd reading on the project (approval in principle) and is looking forward to a significant update expected in the near future. Mayor Adlem describes the initiative as a $60 million project, which for Mission is very substantial. “We are not really a destination community, but the McBarge would change that,” he explains. The working title for this project is “Mission Landing,” but this is a fairly small footprint of a larger 150 acre waterfront redevelopment planning initiative.

Another plan in the downtown reinvigoration is to add a campus for the local University of the Fraser Valley in the downtown core. In order to get the university project underway, local folk would also have to contribute and partner with the municipality and both municipal contributions and partnerships are being sought. And, as traffic will have to be re-routed – highway 7 runs right through Mission – this would first have to be negotiated with the Ministry of Transportation. Mission is also making important investments in education as it has presented $500,000 to the university to establish the Mission campus as the primary site for the Graphic and Digital Design program.

Certainly, these plans would spur growth in the community and an official community plan is in place which addresses areas designated for growth. “From a commercial and industrial perspective we have a very important document called the Employment Land Strategy. We have done an inventory of all our commercial and industrial land and determined what our employment needs will be based on a doubling of the population over the next 30 years.” The Employment Land Strategy will address where the commercial and industrial properties will be placed. It has been determined that there is enough room to accommodate this growth with a higher utilization of existing property.

In the area of economic development, Mission has committed itself to becoming the most business friendly city of the 23 communities in the lower mainland. “We were recently designated as one of the top 25 most business friendly communities in Western Canada. This means that we are open and accommodating to business and investment interests. We have done that, in my opinion through significant service improvements, as well as a 0 percent tax increase last year and a modest 1.49 percent increase this year on property taxes.”

Since time is money for developers, Mission has also tried to speed things up for the development community. “We are also developing an incentive package for prospective developers to facilitate development more rapidly.” Re-zoning applications typically take about 79 days to go through; in Mission, it can now be done in 32. Subdivision applications usually take 76 days to go through; Mission is now doing it within 48 days. All of this is being managed by a development review team affectionately referred to as the “A-Team.”

I asked the mayor about his wish list for the city, and was pleasantly surprised by his answer. Ten minutes from his office is beautiful wilderness of the Mission Interpretive Forest. At 12,000 acres, this community forest is twelve times the size of Stanley Park! Currently there is the Zajac Ranch for Children in the forest, which provides a camping experience for children with chronic, life-threatening or debilitating conditions and further recreational uses for the forest are being planned. “The Tim Horton Children’s Foundation is working to establish their next camp in Mission and we need $6 million to retrofit a road so that they can be in the Interpretive Forest at the northern end. It would end up as a $20 million project that they hope to open in 2017/2018.”

Mission is nestled within natural surroundings and occasional wildlife encounters do happen. Black bears are commonly seen in the community. “We have a forested area on the eastern side of our downtown. It borders the Fraser River Heritage Park and provincial government land, and I believe that we also have a pack of wild coyotes in there,” says the Mayor.

A more popular wild creature from Mission’s surrounding forests is the elusive Sasquatch! This past fall, “Legend Tracker” was launched. This app, available at the App Store and Google Play, is an interactive geocaching game. Players collect gold coins and tools to help them along the way on the search for local legends. “Utilizing a game-like application, we have people collect treasures which help them to upgrade their treasure seeking tools on their app, and then eventually the whole purpose of it is to find Sasquatch. He is a resident of Mission.” It is hoped the new smartphone app will draw visitors to Mission and into participating local businesses. Businesses can register with Legend Tracker to be an official “treasure marker,” which promotes the business on the interactive map.

In terms of drawing visitors, Mission is blessed with a bevy of interesting things to see and do. The first Friday of December, it holds its annual Candlelight Parade, drawing about 15,000 people. This is the largest nighttime parade in Western Canada with 80 floats. Father’s Day at Fraser River Heritage Park includes Old Car Sunday with up to 1,500 vintage cars on display. The Mission Folk Music Festival draws close to 7,000 each year. The Envision Twilight Concert Series is put on every summer by Envision Credit Union on Wednesdays and Fridays in the jewel of the community – the Fraser River Heritage Park. In August, the Rockin’ River Music Fest is put on by Kenny Hess, a local country and western star. In 2014, Mission will be hosting the B.C. Winter Games.

And it doesn’t end there –Mission possesses the Mission Raceway Park which boasts a drag strip, road course and motocross track. Top racers come in over the summer. Mission rather uniquely possesses a municipal forestry department with its own tree farm and the area’s abundant natural attractions also entice visitors. “We probably also have the world’s best sturgeon fishing. That is not an exaggeration. It’s not unusual to catch a 6 foot sturgeon, and we had a 12 footer caught last year. People fly in from all over the world to launch at our marina, and can fish literally right off the shore. We also have lakes with no shortage of various lake trout and the Fraser River draws in the largest salmon run in the world.”

September 29th of 2012 marked the 120th anniversary of Mission, and the provincial government awarded a grant to the community for its celebration. “We put $35,000 into the Clarke Foundation Theatre which is a community theatre which needed a new sound and lighting system. We broke the balance of it up amongst arts and cultural groups in the community so that they could produce something that could be lasting for the community. They displayed it for the 120th birthday.” On that day, a birthday party was held for the community. Entertainment was provided free of charge in the theatre and outside with an old-time sports day for the kids.

For a small community, Mission certainly has produced more than its share of celebrity entertainers and athletes. Brent Hayden is a three-time Olympian, bronze medal winner in 2012 and world champion in 2007 for the 100m freestyle event. Carly Rae Jepsen is a singer-songwriter out of Mission whose song, “Call Me Maybe” hit #1 on the US Billboard and in 19 other countries around the world. In addition to the previously mentioned Kenny Hess, you can add to the list of luminaries Eden Donatelli who is the youngest ever athlete to make the Canadian senior national team status at 15 years of age and won the silver medal in the woman’s 500 metre short track speed skating event in 1988. Perhaps it’s the beautiful surroundings that inspire such talent.

Mission is a town coming into its own. It will be exciting to see how it develops in the years to come, but there are a few things you can count on: tourists will flock there, its population will grow, and development will be a boon to its citizens. The Mayor told this writer that he will take me out Sturgeon fishing sometime in the new year, and I may just take him up on that. He added, “We certainly want as many tourists and business folk to come and take a look at us, and perhaps consider doing some investment in one of the more progressive communities in the province of B.C.” I’m sold!

March 20, 2018, 9:44 AM EDT

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