When driving around the east end of Bonnyville one can’t help but notice all of the new buildings populating the local skyline.
These buildings are part of the new $5.1 million Eastgate development project that the Town of Bonnyville and local developers have been working on for the past few years.
The development, which is being pushed and predominantly funded by local business Envision Ventures Inc., will see a large area of land situated along Highway 28 on the east side of town developed for both commercial and residential purposes.
The development’s triangular-shaped planning area is bounded on the south side by 50th Avenue/Secondary Highway 659, on the northwest by Highway 28 and on the east by Range Road 454, which extends north from 34th Street.
The 246.2-acre planning area already includes existing development such as the Centennial Centre, Tim Hortons and the Best Western Bonnyville Inn and Suites. The new Eastgate project will take up just over 200-acres of that land, which has all been approved for residential and commercial construction.
While there is still a lot to be decided and confirmed surrounding the development, the construction of some residential and commercial buildings is already well underway.
A 55-unit apartment complex, to be owned and operated by Northern Properties, is already half built. A second 55-unit apartment complex as well as two new hotels will also be part of the development. An 87-room Microtel Inn and Suites and an 85-room Comfort Inn and Suites are in the midst of being built with one already having a few stories constructed and the other just finishing the foundation.
“I am quite happy and pleased as to the progress and encouraged as the buildings are being erected, particularly the apartments and the hotels, because it demonstrates a very strong and vibrant economy in the region,” said Mayor Gene Sobolewski.
Ideas for the development were originally thrown around in April of 2010 when a basic area structure plan was first drawn up.
After years of discussions and conversations, which picked up in early 2013, the project has finally started to come to fruition.
According to former Mayor Ernie Isley the project really started to fall together last year after great support from town council. The tender for the construction project was awarded to Norellco Contractors Ltd. in early Oct. of 2013.
Many on Town Council feel this project will bring a variety of positives to a region that has seen it’s fair share of housing and accommodation struggles.
“We are desperately short on rental accommodations, so that is the key,” said Councillor John Irwin. “The (apartment) building is one of two more that are planned so that is going to do a lot for our (industrial) workers. If this eases up on the housing issues a little bit that will satisfy me.”
The project will also see a large residential subdivision developed over the next few years. Exact details surrounding the new subdivision have yet to be released, but development permits for six residential houses have recently been awarded.
“I think this is the best thing that has happened to this town in a long time,” said Isley. “The one building that is going up really fast is the apartment complex and we sure need apartments. You are also going to see houses coming out of the ground very shortly.”
The 172 new hotel rooms will also help ease the no vacancy challenges in the region, as many know it is quite difficult to get a hotel room in town during the week. The additional rooms will push Bonnyville’s total number of hotel rooms beyond the 900 mark.
While apartments and houses will do wonders for the community, the residential side is one a small portion of the development. There are also a variety of commercial buildings planned for Eastgate.
By far the quickest building going up in the new Eastgate development is the McDonalds restaurant, located just off Highway 28 north of Tim Hortons. It is projected to open sometime in December.
Along with the McDonald’s, the only other known restaurant coming to Eastgate is a Boston Pizza, which is projected to be constructed in the spring.
Other larger chain restaurants, big box stores and several grocery stores have been apparently “kicking tires” and inquiring about moving into the development. While many different store names have been flying around, no other retail stores have been officially confirmed for Eastgate just yet.
Councillor Ray Prevost feels that the constructions currently taking place will entice some more stores to come to Bonnyville and expects some companies to commit soon.
“When I look at that development out there it does nothing but good for the town of Bonnyville,” said Prevost. “When you get that kind of growth it will entice other retail outlets to come to Bonnyville, which is what we are short of.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that people will take a look at (the development) and think it is the place to be,” added Prevost.
Along with Isley, Sobolewski and the current council, Town of Bonnyville CAO Mark Power has also had quite an influence on the creation and development of Eastgate.
“The guy that deserves one (heck) of a pile of credit is Mark Power,” said Isley. “He has a really good working relationship will all of the developers in town and he is a creative thinker. It was his idea that started this off on the local improvement tax issues and that is basically the thing we used.”
The developers that Power is working with for the Eastgate project happen to be three local businessmen. Greg Ducharme, Alan Olszowka and Garry Lapointe, are the men funding the massive development as they felt the need to help stimulate some growth in the town.
Their backing and vision for the development has many who are involved with the project excited for the future of the town.
“I keep thinking what this town is going to look like at the end of my term,” said Prevost. “My (new seniors) lodge should be finished. That development should be finished. If I could fast forward and take a picture of what this place will look like in 2-3 years it would be pretty exciting for all of us.”
Sobolewski feels this project will be great for the sustained and future growth of the community. It will bring employment opportunities, new residential housing and new hotels to accommodate all of the workers.
“I think it is more of an evolution. It will help with the sustained growth of Bonnyville,” said Sobolewski.
“You create growth because stagnation is not healthy for a community and our community is not only showing growth but vibrant growth.”