Cultivating Community

City of St. Albert

In 1861, Father Albert Lacombe founded St. Albert. What began as the largest agricultural settlement west of Winnipeg is also the oldest community in Alberta not to have been initially established as a fort.

The generations who followed have created a community that treasures culture and the arts, maintains a commitment to family friendly community building, and keeps its eye on the future. Executive Director of Economic Development, Guy Boston, spoke about the city and the changes that are making it even greater.

Located on the scenic Sturgeon River, St. Albert is one of Canada’s most liveable cities. The Red Willow park trail system connects many parks, schools, and residential areas through 85 kilometres of trails. In addition to the rich offering of green space, “The Botanical Arts City” also has a rich offering of festivals, events and recreational facilities.

“We have the Sturgeon River that runs through it, rolling hills, a nice valley and trails galore,” says Guy. “There is a trail path within four hundred metres of every home in St. Albert. We also have parks galore and a school system, along with a hospital, that is one of the highest rated in Canada.”

There are many factors that make St. Albert one of the best places to raise a family in Canada and its high standard of living has made it the recipient of a number of honours: Healthiest Community in Canada (Readers Digest 2013), #2 Best City in Canada to Live (MoneySense Magazine 2013), Best Place in Canada to Raise a Family (Today’s Parent 2011), #3 Best City in Canada to Find a Job (MoneySense Magazine 2012) and Best Small City in Canada (MoneySense Magazine 2013).

The city hosts the International Children’s Festival every year in June which brings in entertainers from around the world with most of the venues set up downtown. The well known, children-focused five-day festival is sponsored by recognized national businesses.

The city also boasts Western Canada’s largest farmers market. Every Saturday, from the May long weekend until October, the entire downtown core welcomes 10,000 people to see the vendors, taste the fresh produce, and enjoy weekly entertainment.

There is also a multipurpose recreational centre open all year round with four ice surfaces, swimming pools and fitness centre. This centre attracts big tournaments like curling, and has been involved in the Alberta Winter games as well as the Special Olympics Canada Winter games. Famous former residents include professional ice hockey players Jarome Iginla, Mark Messier, Joe Benoit, Troy Murray, and many other athletes.

Colliers International Consulting performed a retail demand analysis for St. Albert last summer and the final report was presented to the city council in December. Colliers examined a number of factors, from shopping habits to retail demands and purchasing power. It then looked at the city’s growth plans; 3,500 acres of the county was annexed in 2007, and those areas are now starting to be developed.

Not only is it a city with wonderful amenities, St. Albert is a city on the move. Of the 3,500 acres of annexed land, the council has designated 617 of them as future employment lands which may become new shopping or entertainment districts. A tired mall downtown will come down this summer, and the redevelopment will be sure to be a catalyst for a very lively new retail area.

The city currently has a population of 62,000, boasts around 1,400 commercial and industrial businesses and has the third highest median household income in the province. Given the population numbers and a time frame for developing the annexed area, an estimate of the retail needed in twenty to twenty-five years was presented to council.

St. Albert currently experiences what is known as ‘leakage’ in a number of retail sectors, meaning that the number of residents who shop within the city for those products is lower than the number who leave the city. Although the city would need to double the retail space of clothing stores, furniture stores and car dealerships presently in operation in order to address the current amount of leakage, the city’s proximity to the much larger city of Edmonton will always be an issue.

“It’s based on pure numbers and there are all kinds of codicils and asterisks because we are dealing with Edmonton, so there will be leakage, but you may be able to regain it if you have the right mix of retail etc.”

As more residents move to the community, that gap between shopping demands and available retailers is expected to grow, the study shows. The results of the study can now assist the city’s development team in attracting developers and investors.

After the analysis was presented to council, an aggressive marketing campaign began with the city seeking out clothing, furniture and electronics retailers and auto dealers and other necessary businesses to fill present and future needs. Roughly 250 retailers that fit into the city’s vision have been contacted and presented with an information package containing income statistics, demographics and the need for specific types of retail within the community.

A city must always be looking at how to deliver services more effectively to its citizens and, in 2013, the council approved the development of a future focused master plan to position the city as a Smart City Centre of Excellence through networked infrastructure. Through transportation control systems such as traffic lights, a Smart City system can do such things as reduce vehicle traffic congestion. Mounted cameras measure traffic and modify traffic light timing accordingly, reducing idling time or traffic jams.

“There is a level of analytics that can be brought to it which has not yet been applied. We are probably going to shout out to the world and ask if anyone knows how to create an app similar to Next Bus that will guide your trek.”

The city’s recently implemented Next Bus system permits a transit rider to download an app and punch in a bus stop number. “It will tell you when the next bus will be there in real time. If you are having cereal and the bus is supposed to show up in two minutes, you click on this app and it may tell you that the bus is eight minutes away. You can finish the bowl and leisurely stroll out to the stop.” Next Bus is already having an effect as ridership on the transit system has increased.

Another example of Smart City technology can be seen in the city’s new water meters. Having budgeted to replace all 22,000 meters, the city has opted for a version that allows more consumer interaction. A user will be able to create settings for water usage with reminders to conserve sent by email or text if water usage exceeds the plan. Accurate readings mean that the city can tell if a property is experiencing a leak and inform them of the issue before damage is done.

“We are a small enough community that if somebody wants to come to market with a very unique thing, we can probably get one hundred residents – because of our education level and demographics – to throw their hands up and say, ‘I’d like to test that new technology.’ So, we become a test bed for people that are going to help increase our efficiency and effectiveness for residents, but at the same time bring that new technology to market potential.”

Noticing that from Edmonton to areas further south, some smaller businesses needed help in order to enter the export market, St. Albert City Manager Patrick Draper came up with the idea to form an alliance focusing more on assisting these smaller businesses. The Capital Region Export Development Alliance (CREDA) was then formed with the City of Edmonton and town of Bon Accord joining as partners in the alliance. The alliance intends to encourage businesses in the region to benefit from Alberta’s export advantage while expanding the local economy and creating jobs.

CREDA applied for a collaboration grant from the Alberta Municipal Affairs department and St. Albert’s mayor recently received a letter from the minister saying CREDA will be given a $100,000 fund to establish the alliance. “It will be virtual at first, with seminars and webinars geared to small and medium sized enterprises, and the hope is that we will be able to draw more communities in once they see the progress we are making.”

The alliance plans to bring in guest speakers and will act as a virtual organization to engage local companies, providing the information, connections and resources needed to be successful in the global marketplace. An advisory committee will provide access to export business planning, intelligence with regard to the global market and necessary connections.

The city’s forward thinking approach is certain to keep it as one of the best cities to live in for years to come. St. Albert has it all.

For more information about the City of St. Albert, please visit http://www.stalbert.ca/

June 4, 2020, 10:16 PM EDT