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Shift to overdrive

Unlike most airport properties, Skyport lots are sold, not leased, and lots can be used for a wide variety of purposes including hangar-residence combinations. Lots start at around $109,000.

Unlike most airport properties, Skyport lots are sold, not leased, and lots can be used for a wide variety of purposes including hangar-residence combinations. Lots start at around $109,000.

The development comes from a private developer, though the city manages the airport and provides services to site, where unique zoning creates the potential for a wide mix of business and residential/general aviation uses.

Reynolds has already sold several fully service lots in Phase 1 of the project, and will be ready to start Phase 2 once Phase 1 is 75 per cent sold. Aviation businesses in Edmonton have expressed interest in the project, but haven't yet made a move to relocate to a 2.6-acre parcel ideal for businesses with a dozen employees.

"We're getting lots of people that are showing some interest," said Reynolds, whose family is also active in traditional development in the community.

"At some point in time, somebody's going to commit to it."


Skyport and "auto mile" are not the only action in town. "The auto dealers have the potential to support an even larger group of retailers, no question," the city's economic development manager Ron Holland said of the drawing power of some of the community's higher-profile businesses.

And with the city preparing to proceed in 2012 with the first phase of a major overhaul of Main Street/50th Avenue, Wetaskiwin is polishing its appeal as a place to do business, he said.

The ambitious $11.5-million project envisions replacement of nine blocks of underground infrastructure over a three-year period. The road above 80-and-90-year-old pipes will be rebuilt as well, leaving opportunities for everything from decorative streetscaping to enhancement of historic buildings under Alberta's Main Street program.

As well, notes Holland, the city appears close - with the help of its neighbours - to proceeding with a new multi-use recreation facility with an estimated price tag in the $18 million range. That complex would replace an aging aquatic centre and offer other benefits. It's not a slam dunk at this point, says Holland, but with Wetaskiwin County willing to drop $4 million into the complex and First Nations communities to the south also possibly offering support, the new facility could well go ahead in 2012.

"It will not be a unanimous decision but it's likely to pass," Holland said of the new complex, the need for which is based significantly on the shape of the current facility.

Growth in Wetaskiwin hasn't been spectacular. It's never been in the 5 or 6 per cent range of the urban bedroom communities around Calgary or Edmonton. Still, it has posted some decent numbers in terms of building activity in the past 10 years.

Building permits

The value of permits peaked in 2006 at $31.7 million, which was followed closely by $30.7 million in 2007. New permit values fell to a more subdued $11.9 million for 2010, and were running at that pace for the first half of this year, but there's new activity coming in terms of condo development. A new 30-room hotel, the Alberta Inn and Suites, opened this spring in an innovative development that includes main-floor retail tenants in a three-storey project.

Wetaskiwin's potential includes the transportation and logistics industries, thanks to its central location.

With 13,000 residents and a trading area of 40,000, the town is already a distribution hub for a prominent retailer, Home Hardware, whose shipping centre includes 750,000 square feet of space. Home Hardware's choice to build in Wetaskiwin reflects the city's proximity to Highway 2, Alberta's main north-south transportation artery, as well as to a strong local labour force.

While some large retailers have located in Wetaskiwin, there's room for more in the stalled Denham Landing project, which already includes Wal-Mart and Tim Hortons. Canadian Tire is among other major retailers in town, and SportChek is a new addition - one that reflects the extended retail catchment area of the community. It's uncommon for the retailer to be in communities under 20,000 population, but SportChek took the plunge in 2010 and has been pleased with its results, says Holland.

Wetaskiwin's business community also includes manufacturers with an international profile, like Supreme International Ltd., which manufactures vertical livestock feed processors and ships them to markets as far away as New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. Another major employer, A.C. Dandy Products Ltd., produces electrical equipment, including large units tailor-made for oilsands development.

Alan Greene, the executive director of the Wetaskiwin and District Chamber of Commerce, says new businesses seem to be doing well and have filled some of the newer space in places like the Alberta Inn and Suites project. As well, small businesses are keen to see the pending infrastructure overhaul.

Noted Greene: "We're trying to get people to understand there's more to Wetaskiwin than just auto dealerships."

Lower costs

Wetaskiwin's residential market has been fairly stable, with the average single-family home selling for around $232,000 in 2011 and condos not much further behind at $206,900, says Re/Max Wetaskiwin owner and broker Randy Plant.

Plant says the home market felt the ripple effect in 2006 and 2007, when people priced out of the south Edmonton, Leduc and Nisku markets made the move to Wetaskiwin. Those buyers included folks who were working in the Leduc/Nisku area and also in or around Wetaskiwin.

The 24-unit Windsor Park condo project is expected to drive up building-permit numbers this fall, with units selling for $170,000 to $265,000, Plant notes.

Plant said lease costs provide some opportunities for businesses locally, with newer highway commercial space going for $12 per square foot triple net, plus common costs. Older downtown retail space can be had for $7 to $8 per square foot.

from Western Investor October 2011