Mayor Linda Hepner and the City of Surrey are facing tough questions after tens of thousands of dollars were spent to send her and three staffers to a real estate conference in Cannes, France, the city made famous for its film festival.
Developers helped to foot the bill for the trip to the conference, which took place from March 13 to 16 — and at a time when home prices are soaring in the growing city.
Hepner was to speak on a panel at Mipim, a conference that advertises itself as an event that “gathers the most influential international property players from the office, residential, retail, health care, sport, logistics and industrial sectors for four days of networking, learning and transaction.”
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The panel, titled “City As a Service, the New Urban Experience,” had Hepner slated to speak on what cities need to do to remain attractive and competitive.
But the cost of the trip, and who paid for it, have garnered attention back home.
The trip to Cannes cost $58,000 in total, according to city documents.
The city spent $11,000 of its own money, but about $47,000 was “offset by sponsorship.”
Money came from companies including Concord Pacific, Century Group, Blackwood Partners, Fraser Surrey Docks and the city-owned Surrey Development Group.
The arrangement looks like a conflict of interest to Douglas Elford with Surrey Community Alliance, which is challenging Hepner’s Surrey First party in the fall municipal election.
“It appears to be a conflict of interest if we have developers supporting politicians’ trips abroad, particularly when these developers are looking for approvals from those very same politicians on their projects in this city,” he said.
Donna Jones, the City of Surrey’s general manager of investment and intergovernmental relations, did not see a conflict.
“The economic development division is the division that managed this project completely,” she said.
“We always try to think of creative ways of being fiscally prudent. This was an international gathering of investors that are able to help accelerate the transformation of a city through the investments that they make.”
The conference, and the developers’ contributions, also came at a time that has been very fruitful for Surrey real estate.
The following chart shows how prices for apartments across Surrey grew year-over-year between September 2017 and February 2018, according to the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board:
Home prices are growing right across Surrey, especially when it comes to apartments.
Data gathered from the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board showed the benchmark price of an apartment in the Cloverdale area alone growing by 53.4 per cent year over year in February, to reach $488,100.
In Surrey Central, they grew by 52 per cent year over year, to reach $427,400.
But Hepner and her staffers’ attendance at Mipim has also proven fruitful, according to the city.
The City of Surrey said it has already had a followup from a company that builds data centres to support the digital infrastructure along the West Coast.