Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner

Surrey mayor’s State of the City Address focuses on ‘big ideas’

HEPNER: ‘The city has come a long way in the past few years and we are far from finished’

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Now-Leader obtained an embargoed copy of Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner’s third State of the City Address, which she delivered Thursday in Surrey. This story uses Hepner’s embargoed speech as its main source.

Shaping a growing city was the theme of Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner’s State of the City Address on Thursday.

In front of a business crowd at the Sheraton in Guildford, Hepner announced a 10-year economic growth strategy, revealed an SFU mental health chair has been hired and said that she would be fast-tracking six to eight “transformative” developments in the city.

The mayor began her speech by saying it’s been an “interesting” year, from the “unexpected” election of President Donald Trump to the British delivering their formal exit notice from the European Union, to the results of B.C.’s provincial election just nine days earlier.

“Even though some of those things might look, or feel, like they are a world apart from us, the fact is they still matter to Surrey,” Hepner said.

“Everything that is happening in the United States is of tremendous interest to us, particularly if it involves trade, travel, tourism, border security or immigration.”

Hepner said dozens of Surrey companies market and sell into Europe and Britain, pointing to award-winning clean tech company Ivey International that has secured $250,000 in European contracts in the last six months and Punjab Milk Foods, which exports Indian food products to more than 20 countries.

She vowed the city’s future wouldn’t be “designed or dictated by anyone but us, the people of Surrey. The city has come a long way in the past few years and we are far from finished. And we certainly recognize the challenges that come with change and the kind of growth we have seen recently. But we are definitely up for it.”

Hepner said while Canada turn 150 this year, Surrey was incorporated 138 years ago, becoming a full-fledged city only 24 years ago.

Referencing the Rockefeller Foundation’s step-by-step city-building guide throughout her speech, Hepner talked about the importance of “transforming” Surrey as it continues to grow.

She talked of the importance of city policies that have been completed – including the Official Community Plan, a new Sustainability Charter and last year’s Public Safety Strategy, which included the Surrey Outreach Team, made up of Mounties and bylaw officers charged with tackling social issues on 135A Street and the struggles of vulnerable citizens there.

“The issues there didn’t happen overnight, and they are not going to be resolved overnight,” said Hepner, “but we are definitely making steady progress, one housing placement and one addiction service referral at a time, without running the risk of dispersing the problem.”

Technology, she explained, is key to the safety strategy, revealing police are currently piloting a new technology that transmits live video feeds from the RCMP Air One helicopter directly to Surrey detachment’s operations centre.

The mayor also announced that an SFU research chair to help youth suffering from mental health addiction issues, first announced two years ago, has now been hired through a partnership with the John Volken Foundation and Surrey Firefighters Charitable Society.

Dr. Faranak Farzan, an expert in neuro-imaging and non-invasive brain stimulation to treat brain disorders, has landed the job.

Light rail, too, was a focus of Hepner’s speech.

She said “work is progressing” on the first phase of Surrey’s planned 27-kilometre LRT line.

She said a formal bilateral agreement between the federal and provincial governments being signed by the end of 2017 will be “the next critical step” to advance the project, but that detailed design work is already underway.

“Early construction, which includes four-laning 100th Avenue, is moving ahead,” she said. “In addition, we have secured space for the LRT project office at Gateway. And we have ramped up the hiring of the Surrey project team.

“And if autonomous cars are destined to be a player in the future of mobility, we better get ready for that,” she added.

Hepner said Surrey must be a technological leader when it comes to garbage, mentioning the city’s public-private biofuel facility set to open later this year. The first closed-loop fully-integrated organic waste management system in North America, the facility will convert 100 per cent of the city’s organic waste.

In addition to producing high-grade compost, it will also power the city’s waste collection and municipal fleet and the city’s district energy system.

“It’s like taking more than 10,000 vehicles off the road.”

Last year, Hepner spoke of a sort of “nexus” program for the city’s experienced builders and on Thursday said it is her intention to fast-track a handful of “city shaping” projects with “transformative potential.”

First on the mayor’s list is SFU’s new science, engineering and energy building designed by the late Bing Thom which she said is “key to our future in higher education.”

Hepner said this project will accelerate the emerging University District in City Centre, because Kwantlen Polytechnic University is also establishing a strong presence there, taking five floors in the new 3Civic Plaza building next to city hall.

She said the planned Legion Veterans Village is another “transformative” project.

“The vision for the project is a mixed use development that includes a legion space, veteran’s and market housing and most importantly a centre for PTSD research and treatment for our veterans and our first responders.”

Hepner also revealed that Jim Pattison Development Group is in discussions with the city and the Surrey City Development Corporation about plans to build a 400-room hotel and indoor waterpark family-themed resort in South Surrey.

“The resort will bring in more than 600 jobs as well as $150 million in construction,” she noted.

Hepner said she also wants to see Concord’s LED Tower project completed, which would be “Canada’s first interactive illuminated residential tower.”

She said the 41-storey tower planned would put “Surrey’s City Centre skyline on the map at night.”

Finally, she said Anthem’s two-million square foot proposed development at King George Boulevard and 102nd Avenue will create “another vibrant neighbourhood on the east side of King George Boulevard.”

The mixed-use project includes seven residential towers, office and commercial space, a restaurant row and green urban spaces.

Hepner also boasted about Surrey’s budget continuing to rank among the lowest per capita in the region.

“And the value of building – a definite sign of strong economic activity – topped almost $1.5 billion last year and this year is looking equally impressive,” she noted.

Hepner also used her speech to announce a new 10-year Economic and Job Creation Strategy that will include a new online “site selection tool” that lets investors view curated market information, a commitment to introduce funding programs to 500 Surrey-based businesses, and a plan to work “hand-in-glove” with university partners to study the labour market and create strategies to prepare students for the jobs of the future.

“Our research indicates that 36,000 jobs will be created in Surrey’s innovation economy alone in the next 10 years. And that is not by chance,” she added, noting that the city, along with government and institutional partners, have invested close to $300 million in Surrey’s “robust innovation ecosystem” in recent years.

In her speech last year, Hepner talked about making Surrey a film-friendly city and this year said that is “paying off big time.”

The number of filming days in Surrey has increased more than 600 per cent since 2011, she noted, while the number of film permits has nearly tripled.

“Today it’s an important part of our local economy and creates more than 5,000 jobs for Surrey residents,” she said.

“We are up for a future that involves big ideas.”

amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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