Prairie Creek Business Park
The Wood Buffalo region has long had the dubious distinction of having some of the most expensive commercial/industrial land found in North America.
Compounding that is the land surrounding Fort McMurray is almost all Crown land, meaning it has to be released from the provincial government. Not always an easy task.
But some relief is underway as one company aims to dramatically change that historic cost-prohibitive nature of development with the launch of a 1,000 acre business park.
Currently under site preparation, the Prairie Creek Business Park on the east side of Highway 63 north of the Highway 881 exchange also aims to be more than just a base for support services for oil sands and other industries.
Pacific Investments and Development Inc. is working with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) on a proposal to possibly serve as a gateway to pedestrian and bike trails, and there have been discussions with local groups like the McMurray Sno-Drifters about a staging area for motorized toys.
“We’re talking about connecting this with Fort McMurray and we’ve been working with the planning department about this. We’ve got the trail network that has been put into our road cross-section so we reserved space,” explains Jeff Petrick, communications director for Pacific.
The company recently tabled a proposal to connect that system to Fort McMurray proper so that someone who works in Prairie Creek will have a beautiful few kilometres bike ride to get to work, he adds.
Then there is the creation of a staging area that is more about the off-property trail system.
“People already use it. People go there and unload the skidoos and they go all over the place. We were going to mobilize that by having a staging area for the community.”
It’s just to formalize where they stage and what the facilities are so the users can do what they love to do.
“ATVs are a reality of life up here so we’re working on what provisions we can make for that crowd as well,” said Petrick. “That all goes hand in hand with connecting these little pods of development.”
A lot of time and effort has gone into this and “We’re really excited to bring it out.”
Pacific began working on becoming the proponent of this development since 2010 when the provincial government released some land in response to the Commercial and Industrial Land Use Study released by the RMWB in 2010. Goals and objectives of this study included a review of land supply, growth challenges and provide clear recommendations on the optimal future location and mix of industrial and commercial land in both urban and rural areas.
The report identified major deficiencies in every category especially industrial and commercial. Petrick says that’s what really triggered the provincial government to work with the RMWB to release such a significant parcel of land to relieve the upward pressure on pricing, allowing business of all shapes and sizes the ability to buy something that suited their purposes at a price they could afford.
Pacific gained the land as part of the public process that Alberta Infrastructure undertook in response to the CILUS report. They took a look at quite a few parcels of land and determined that this had the best access to Highway 63, recalled Petrick. Following their studies, the government made it available to the business community and Pacific made its application in response to their proposal
Once of three developers to be shortlisted, Pacific was awarded the land in 2011, and Petrick says it was based on the vision the company had for the land and the amount of effort it put into that.
“We had a vision for bringing out everything that we’re talking about now which is an affordable sustainable development that would fully capitalize on what the real needs of the community were.
Petrick notes there really has been a critical shortage at times during growth spurts that pushed out the smaller companies. There just wasn’t enough project land to accommodate what Fort McMurray needed to do.
“Now this land is the first example, we feel, where that has been completely addressed or the plan to address it is moving forward and we prepared as best we can. We’re positioned for the market. ... To be much more affordable than what people have seen before. We’re excited to bring this out to people, local companies, small and medium service providers.”
Given the total size, he adds it should provide the local business community with a whole new playing field, when it comes to land affordability.
A high point was having the first access to the property off Highway 63 recently re-named Kirschner Way to honour former RMWB Councillor Dave Kirschner.
“We’re very pleased with that.”
Phase One of the development, currently in site preparation, has 50 acres with the second phase boasting 200.
Much timing of the construction is obviously market-dependant. The first utilities are currently being brought in along Highway 63. He points out there is also a great collaboration happening with the RMWB, which is looking to run municipal water down Highway 63, through Pacific’s property, and on to Anzac, the best alignment for that Southlands Utility Corridor. The RMWB is looking at starting the water pipeline project this coming winter, after going through further planning and coming back to council for approval this fall.
“We’ve also been able to get agreements with Alberta Transportation in place that helps us to be able to stage the development. With the subdivision approval coming up soon for our first phase of serviced lots, we will be making lots available to the public early this fall.”
Phase Two is close to being approved by the RMWB, since Pacific received approval for land use re-designation from council this past July.
As for the make-up of the park, Petrick says “We envision a mostly light-industrial business park, with some businesses that need more high exposure on the highway-facing side, such as car or equipment dealerships. In the eastern portion, we can expect there will be oil and gas services businesses, logistics, and warehousing mixed in with some light industrial users, who might be mixing cement or that sort of thing.”
He points out the highway frontage site has 21 acres at the intersection open and for sale, and says his door is open for conversation with interested buyers.
Recognizing the current economic downturn, he explains “We’re positioning ourselves to be able to evaluate how hard and how deep this is going to hit Fort McMurray and position ourselves well so that we can bring on the most affordable land we can regardless of those circumstances.”
While construction might not yet be going full bore, he notes that the company is using this time to complete detailed engineering designs on all its offsite services which includes sanitary and storm water outflows ... “Getting anything we can do together, designed and ready for approval, just moving this forward as best we can. There certainly is some construction on the site and we certainly are open for business as far as people coming and talking to us.”
A key piece to the development and an overdue need for the area is a truck stop or major transportation hub.
“It was part of the plan for this park going forward. From the beginning it was one of the requirements that was asked of us and we certainly have the room and the opportunity to do that going forward.”
It would be located a little north of Kirschner Way at an intersection dubbed Crown Avenue.
Pacific’s approved outline plan has some 16 acres zoned for highway commercial.
“It would certainly accommodate one of the largest truck stops you’d ever see,” said Petrick. “We’ve had our eyes focused on that for quite a few years now.”
He figures it could be a gateway for commercial, alluding to big box retail, even recreation opportunities to start offering the services the community really deserves.
“A lot of different ideas have been brought out.”
Going only seven minutes south of town for a little – or a lot – of retail therapy is preferable to the five hour drive to Edmonton.
“We’re fairly ready to go. We’ve got everything in place; all the approvals are set up In terms of developing the property. We just want to work the community and bringing everybody in who’s interested.”
Anyone interested can give Petrick a call at 403-246-7250.
Information on energy prices, land sales and rig activity can be obtained by downloading the latest Energy Update from Alberta Energy at www.energy.alberta.ca/Org/pdfs/EnergyUpdate.pdf