Over 10 years ago, Cochrane was approved for the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) program. Since then, it has seen the transformation of 18 hectares of brownfields into a vibrant new "Quarry" commercial area.
Cochrane is now the poster child of what could be accomplished through the Alberta government program.
The Town of Cochrane is examining the potential of reigniting that magic with a second CRL program to further stimulate the revitalization of Cochrane's downtown.
"Cochrane is always pointed to as the success story," says Mayor Jeff Genung, "so why wouldn't we take a look at maybe reapplying for a second one, or maybe it's an addition to the current one, to allow us to build off the opportunities that we've already seen successes in."
Exploring the possibility is one of many town advocacy priorities to generate funding and foster partnerships with the Alberta government.
Mayor Genung says the town hasn't made an application at this point.
"But we're certainly researching and investigating what one might look like and then seeing if we could apply and duplicate the success we've seen with the current one."
Since 2013, the town has been able to keep the taxes collected within the Quarry for specific infrastructure improvements within its boundaries. In addition, it receives the education requisition collected within the boundary that would normally go to the province.
"We can't just spend it on whatever we want," Genung notes. "There's a list of projects and land acquisitions. So, for example, The Station lands were bought with the CRL monies. It's restricted to certain things and the province holds us to that, so it's not just an open cheque."
The town's CRL program recently received a 10-year extension from the province. The levy generates about $1 million annually to reinvest in the district's infrastructure and that is expected to rise to $1.3 million.
The tens of thousands of people who have come to Cochrane since may not realize what the townsite looked like back then when you descended from the Big Hill. There was a large black tarp over the pile of contaminated soil from the former old Domtar site.
"Basically it was just a big dark hole in the middle of Cochrane, and now there's Garmins' Canadian headquarters, Save-on-Foods, Canadian Tire, Walmart, and a host of others, plus a huge list of improvements."
As it turned out, contaminated soil played a huge role in bringing commerce into the heart of the community, At one point, it had been proposed that Walmart be built on the outskirts, something which has proven harmful to downtowns in other communities.
"We have the best of both worlds. It's literally the railway tracks separating this CRL and the new development side of downtown versus the historic downtown, which has remained vibrant. Cochrane just has it going on."
The province reintroduced the program in 2022. Eligible redevelopment projects include:
- municipal capital infrastructure – projects that involve the purchase, construction, development, betterment, rehabilitation, or non-routine maintenance of a capital asset, owned by a municipality or other eligible entity. Some examples of such projects are the construction of municipal roads, bridges, or transit facilities.
- debt financing related to improvements in the CRL area;
- remediation of contaminated areas;
- addressing housing needs and community design;
- area beautification to attract people and investment; and
- planning requirements including consultation with indigenous communities and analysis of broader impacts.
The Edmonton Capital City Downtown CRL was the last project approved in 2015. Cochrane remains the only community outside of Calgary and Edmonton included in the program.
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