A trip to Texas has reiterated a City of Red Deer position that boat canals in Riverlands would be counterproductive, says Mayor Morris Flewwelling.
Last week, Flewwelling attended the International Downtown Association convention in San Antonio with councillors Lorna Watkinson-Zimmer and Larry Pimm, plus city manager Craig Curtis and Development Services director Paul Goranson. City officials from the third-fastest growing city in the U.S. took the Red Deer group on a boat and walking tour of the River Walk.
Located below street level, it’s a place where people can take a small boat ride or stroll along the walk lined with many galleries, shops and restaurants.
“Obviously for climate reasons, we can’t do it that way (as found in San Antonio),” Flewwelling said. “When it’s -20C, you aren’t likely to be boating and you aren’t likely going to be skating on a windy canal.”
Red Deer was considering boat canals for the Riverlands, a large undeveloped area west of Taylor Drive that includes the former civic yards. A riverwalk similar to San Antonio is still planned but with smaller waterways, outlined in the Greater Downtown Action Plan approved in February.
“It has alerted us to the opportunities as to what we can do. . . it will be really exciting to see what actually gets developed (in Riverlands),” Flewwelling said.
Ray McBeth, one of a number of business leaders who has lobbied the boat canal concept as a potentially big tourist attraction, challenged Flewwelling to think differently.
“Water freezes on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and they turn it into a gigantic community meeting place,” McBeth said. “They all skate, they all have coffee, they do all sorts of things.”
A city-funded UMA Engineering report indicated development of the Riverlands area would be $300 million and of that $30 million would be for the canal development.
A further economic impact study was then sought to see if the canal concept would be a profitable tourism generator for Red Deer. That study was later kiboshed by the city, said McBeth.
“That’s the key to this thing — all we want to know now is if we spent money on this project, would it turn profit for the city of Red Deer,” McBeth said.
McBeth said he’s concerned Riverlands could become a tax burden if it’s not developed properly.
The business leaders became part of a chamber tourism subcommittee that has since given a final recommendation to the chamber, encouraging the economic impact study be done.
Chamber president Mike Axworthy said the chamber wrote to Alberta Tourism, Parks and Recreation in December on the province assisting with an economic impact study of the entire Riverlands area. The chamber recently disbanded the tourism subcommittee because it was no longer needed.
“I don’t think the study would involve the canals because my understanding is a complete study (on them) would have to be done,” Axworthy said.
Alberta Tourism spokeswoman Anne Douglas said the province may assist with determining the Riverlands economic impact once the city does a feasibility study and cost estimates this year.
City manager Craig Curtis believes the canals concept is a “dead issue.”
“Community support for the canals was virtually nil,” he said. “In fact, there was an awful lot of opposition. What we came up with was strongly supported.”