“Open for business”

Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick speaks in favour of giving a grant to local developers building a Best Western Premium Hotel in Prince Albert. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

It took more than one hour of debate, but Prince Albert city council has officially signed off on the development of a new luxury hotel.

Council voted 7-2 in favour of awarding a $700,000 cash grant to the developers building the Best Western Premium Hotel on 36th Street West. The developer must pay all required fees, levies, permits and infrastructure charges, and finish construction before receiving the grant.

A discretionary use development permit, which governs things like hotel eating and drinking facilities, was also approved by an 8-1 margin.

According to developers and the City of Prince Albert, the hotel will create 70 new jobs and bring in $277,000 in annual tax revenue, as well as $48,000 for the Destination Marketing Levy Fund.

Mayor Greg Dionne said he was very pleased to see the $15-million development move forward, especially considering the tough economic times.

“It’s going to get people back to work and I hope we get more spin-off out of it,” he said. “It really shows that we’re open for business.”

Open for business was a common theme during Monday’s special council meeting, with almost all councillors offering enthusiastic support for the project.

Ward 5 Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick was the most adamant proponent. He called the project a win for the city, and urged council to use the motion as an opportunity to show support for Prince Albert’s business community.

He also expressed exasperation with those who opposed the project and the spin-off benefits.

“We need business,” he said. “The only way we’re going to increase our tax base and provide all of the things that we value as a council is to get tax dollars, and we get tax dollars by getting developments like this.”

While Ogrodnick and councillors Don Cody, Blake Edwards, Ted Zurakowski, Evert Botha and Charlene Miller all hailed the development, not every councillor was so supportive.

Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp strongly objected to almost every benefit given to developers by the city, and tried unsuccessfully to have four amendments made to the motion.

Those amendments would have added a note guaranteeing the hotel would be a luxury hotel, and that at least 70 per cent of the labour force used to build it must come from Prince Albert. Three of the four amendments died without being seconded.

Afterwards, Lennox-Zepp expressed surprise at how little information was given to councillors before voting on the motion as a whole.

“There is absolutely no evidence that a $700,000 cash grant and a property tax break is appropriate in this case. It’s shocking that city council doesn’t have any report on any economic reasons why we would want to subsidize this particular business.”

Lennox-Zepp emphasized that she wasn’t opposed to subsidies and tax-breaks, only that they weren’t needed in this instance. She was also worried that the motion didn’t require the developers to build a luxury hotel. The language in the motions reads that grant money will be provided based on the developers building a Best Western, not a Best Western Premium.

“I think if we’re considering, and we did consider, handing over $700,000, you dot your I’s and cross your T’s, and you make sure that it’s going to be a premium luxury hotel,” she said. “In this case, that’s not what we voted on.”

Dionne defends development as positive for city

Lennox-Zepp’s arguments gained little traction with Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne, a strong proponent on the new development.

Dionne took issue with a number of Lennox-Zepp’s claims, specifically her concerns that the city would never earn back the $700,000 grant because of the increase in utility service, road maintenance and other issues.

“That’s totally a false statement,” he said. “It doesn’t cost us $170,000 to plow the street. We don’t do garbage…. They have to have a commercial hauler, so all we do is sweep the street and plow it. That’s all we do.”

Dionne added that there were no concerns about the developers changing their minds and building a different kind of hotel than the one already approved. He said plans have already been approved by the city, and development financing depended on it being a luxury hotel. Construction is scheduled to start in the fall.

“I can’t see them changing overnight,” he said.

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca