The city of White Rock has a bolder and brighter future ahead.
But it needs to invest more in developing a plan for the waterfront – including reinstating free winter parking – and co-operate with Surrey for mutual economic benefit.
That was the upbeat message delivered by Mayor Catherine Ferguson in her valedictory state-of-the-city address at a South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce meeting Wednesday at Hazelmere Golf Club.
Ferguson – who will not run for re-election next month and who announced last week she will become executive director of the White Rock Hospice Society in February – drew a full house of business representatives and local movers and shakers.
Ferguson told the group that White Rock – which she called a “small city with a big heart” – is “poised for positive growth” as it enters the final quarter of 2011.
In spite of a relentless U.S. recession and other challenges, there are 808 entrepreneurs currently operating a business in the city, she said.
“Our economy is on the threshold of an upswing,” she said. “The most obvious sign of this is the large yellow crane at work high above the skyline.”
The Avra project, currently under construction, and the next phase of the Miramar development, due next year, will add 252 condominium residences located close to White Rock businesses, Ferguson said.
She drew applause when she noted that new housing units in the city this year have shown a 65 per cent upswing over last year.
But Ferguson said she is shocked that the apparent resurgence of life in the town centre – part of her vision of a vibrant people- and culture-friendly city – is not mirrored in its “most valued and admired asset”: the waterfront.
“We absolutely must invest the same energy and time into a plan for White Rock’s beautiful seaside,” she said. “It must become a powerful year-round, regional tourism destination.”
Ferguson also envisioned a connection between the waterfront and the Five Corners area that could be, in itself, a tourist draw, she challenged the community to come up with a solution as creative as Quebec City’s gondola, Seattle’s Pike Street hill climb or Boston’s Beacon Hill art walk.
Ferguson also won applause when she added that parking near the waterfront should be free during the winter season.
Ferguson had praise for cost savings the city had achieved through is core service review, and the new image created by the My City By The Sea branding task force, and said a revitalization tax-exemption program instituted by the city is already beginning to help encourage business property upgrades.
She said the Business Needs Assessment commissioned by the city and the BIA has shown that, “White Rock must stay focused on what we do best: unique restaurants, specialty retail and neighbourhood-oriented businesses.”
While big-box stores don’t fit the character of the city, she added, big chain stores at Morgan Crossing and Grandview Heights should be looked at as a positive; drawing shoppers into the Peninsula who can then be encouraged to discover White Rock boutiques and cafés.
She noted that she and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts have already started both city staffs exploring “synergies” between White Rock’s town centre and the Semiahmoo Centre area.
“We must work with Surrey to benefit from it,” Ferguson said.