FREDERICTON – The city of Fredericton had a record-setting start to the year issuing $73-million worth of building permits from January to May. But the most encouraging news for Mayor Mike O’Brien? In a government town, the growth was fueled mainly by private-sector projects, with less than one per cent of the permits tied to government investments.
“If the private sector has enough confidence in the city to invest dollars like that, you know something good is going on,” said O’Brien during his State of the City Address Thursday at the Fredericton Convention Centre.
O’Brien says it’s healthy for Fredericton’s economy that developments come from the private sector. According to the city of Fredericton, almost $47-million of the total investments – 67 per cent – are tied to commercial office projects.
The new developments include a Cyber Security building at Knowledge Park Drive and two new office buildings downtown.
“We are just not a small sleepy little tree town anymore, we’re a top class IT knowledge-based sector and a growing economy,” he said.
One of the developments is an office tower on Regent Street being constructed by the Fredericton-based company Waverley Developments LP.
Earl Brewer, the company’s co-owner and president, says the $17-million development with a 75,000 square feet will consist of mostly office and some retail space. It will host around 300 people and give “first class accommodation to employees,” said Brewer.
The building will be finished by early summer next year and open by mid-summer. The building already has tenants lined up, but Brewer won’t identify them, preferring to let them make the announcement themselves.
Brewer says investments like his are a sign of increased urbanization in Fredericton.
“People are moving into the city to take up the jobs in the high tech industry, a growing part of the Fredericton economy,” he said.
He says it’s a spin-off from the University of New Brunswick.
“Their programs dealing with high tech development are catching on, and falling on through that, their startup programs come out through Planet Hatch or the Fredericton Knowledge Park,” he said. “It’s been an expanding part of the Fredericton economy.”
Ross Ventures is another private developer that began the construction of an office building downtown in late 2018 and will open in the spring of 2020.
Company CEO Jeff Yerxa says Fredericton is a good place to do business because of its economic stability and predictability.
“It doesn’t grow as fast as some other communities but it also doesn’t have to go through a lot of the busts that those same communities experience,” he said.
Councillor Bruce Grandy believes commercial employment drives population growth.
Amongst the developments, 132 new residential units have been permitted so far this year, say statistics from the city of Fredericton. Eighty per cent of new units are townhouses and apartments.
Grandy agrees that part of the city’s economic growth is connected to startup culture with new companies emerging from UNB, Planet Hatch, and Knowledge Park.
“What happens is [startups] get to the national stage, and they don’t move their companies to Toronto or Montreal. They actually like Fredericton, they like the environment,” he said.
“There are all these good things about Fredericton and I think … the private sector is starting to gain confidence.”