During the July 19, 2021, Regular Meeting Whitecourt Town Council discussed an opportunity to apply for funding from the Canada Community Revitalization Fund (CCRF). The fund aims to help communities build and improve infrastructure projects, rebound from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, support building new community infrastructure to revitalize downtowns, safely bring people back to public spaces, and create jobs while stimulating the local economy.
The national investment into the program is set at $500 million over two years and is available to non-profit organizations, municipalities, other community groups, and Indigenous communities. Selected projects need to be completed by March 31, 2023, meaning that to apply, you required a shovel-ready project. Thanks to the Town of Whitecourt's 20 Year Capital Plan, Council and Administration had compatible projects and could pounce on the opportunity.
Up to 75 percent of a project's costs can be applied for with the grant, and the total funding Whitecourt could stand to receive is $750,000. However, the timeline to get an application in was short, another bonus to having a plan in place. CAO Peter Smyl said they were looking to apply for the maximum amount and had a project in mind.
One big part of the Sportsfield Master Plan is the extension of 50 Street into Rotary Park, effectively creating another entrance/exit point for the area. Currently, 50 Street comes off the four-way stop by the Town Administration building and bends right at the Seniors Circle, heading off towards the backside of Central School. A walking trail extends from the sidewalk in front of the Seniors Circle, which brings pedestrian traffic down into the park.
Adding a roadway beside the path is estimated at $1.6 million. "It would link downtown to Rotary Park," explained Smyl. "It's something that the team looked at and thought would be a perfect fit. It ties in everything that the grant wants. We've looked at some internal scoring, and it ranked up quite high. It would be a great opportunity. You know, Whitecourt is looking at huge opportunities in the area, and it would be something that changes the whole dynamics of downtown and Rotary Park."
Visitors leaving the park through the new roadway would be driving into downtown Whitecourt's business portion, allowing business owners to relish in the added traffic. They could have sidewalk sales or added promotions to encourage park visitors to stop and shop. Smyl explained that they had $500,000 from the Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding and $350,000 from the Future Community Project Reserve to go towards it.
"We felt that (this project) would be the best when looking at the 20 Year Capital Plan. There were some other projects, but they didn't rank as high. This one is a highly popular grant. Applications will be submitted by, I imagine, every municipality in Canada, and we want to make sure we put our best foot forward. It's not an easy one to apply for, but it checks all the checkboxes."
With a short timeline to get the application in, Administration looked to Council for approval so that they could lick the stamp and get it sent off ASAP. "They announce them and give you a few weeks to get applications done, and then, of course, the project has to be done by March 31, 2023. Without the planning that we've done with the public on Rotary Park and the Downtown Revitalization, this wouldn't be able to get done," said Smyl.
Councillor Derek Schlosser chuckled over a comment about the grant's difficulty. "I thought that was pretty funny when you said that it was hard to do because it can't be harder than a nearly $16 million government grant from the feds to build an art centre." He referred to the Canada Infrastructure Program grant that the Town of Whitecourt applied for in 2017 and was subsequently awarded to put towards the Arts & Culture Centre/Library Project.
"I love other people's money, and I think it's great to have shovel-ready projects like this. It's a great fit. I think one of the challenges over the next five years is going to be getting some money for downtown revitalization and adding onto Rotary Park, so this is a great segue to that." He then made a motion to have Administration apply for the grant. Councillor Tom Pickard spoke in favour of it. "I think it would increase the safety because that would let us have two points of egress out of that park." Council voted unanimously to apply.
Serena Lapointe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press