Prairie Sky Gondola has announced it wants to build a gondola ropeway, or cable system, in Red Deer. (Image contributed by Prairie Sky Gondola)

Hackett: The great gondola debate rages on

Who could have guessed a little ol’ gondola could stir up so much controversy.

Earlier this week, Prairie Sky Gondola announced a proposal to build a 350-metre ropeway, two-station pulse gondola over the Red Deer river, connecting Capstone to Bower Ponds.

Boy, did the internet have a few things to say about that.

Over 100 people commented on the Advocate’s Facebook page, both on the original story and on a poll simply asking if they thought it was a good idea or not.

As of Thursday, on that poll, about 250 people have voted, with 65 per cent saying it’s not a good idea.

To make it crystal clear, there are a few facts to get out in the open.

It is a “privately-funded venture,” which to me means no or very minimal capital investment from the city. In short, it’s not going to cost the taxpayers very much. It’s not like the city is dipping into road repair reserves to fund a $25 million gondola to cross the river.

This is a private company, coming to the city with an idea to do something different, something that not a lot of cities Red Deer’s size have.

We’d all love another pedestrian bridge across the river, nobody is arguing that.

This is not an either-or scenario and the gondola won’t get built because it’s more practical. It’s a money-making venture for a company that clearly sees a market for it. Nobody throws around $25 million for a silly pet project they don’t think will provide any return on its investment.

A common complaint around this city is nobody ever wants to go downtown, there’s no draw there. Well, a gondola station with a restaurant and other elements might just be what the doctor ordered. Isn’t it worth a shot, where there is a minimal commitment beyond the land the city needs to provide to make it happen?

The company has said they want to make the station at Capstone “bold,” while the station at Bower Ponds “invisible.” I may be a sucker, but that makes sense to me. You don’t want to disturb the scenic aspects of Bower Ponds and you want to draw people to Capstone. A big shiny building with a restaurant does that. A fun little trip, 40 metres above the Red Deer River does that. There will be a cost, sure but every avenue of entertainment in our lives in 2022 comes at a cost.

It may end up being a novelty, but it could also bring some much-needed tourism dollars, which could help offset taxes and other municipal expenses that are bound to go up in the next few years.

There’s nothing wrong with a little excitement, a little enthusiasm for some outside-the-box projects. Does this city have bigger problems to address? Absolutely. I don’t think anyone at City Hall is putting all other projects on hold while they examine the feasibility of a gondola going across the river.

It’s easy to dismiss the idea. It’s easy to call it a waste of money, which very well could be true down the line. But it is also someone from outside this city, envisioning something different, something unique and trying to bring it here. Someone making a true investment in our city.

It is also fine to be skeptical – I’ll be the first to eat my words if this becomes the taxpayers’ problem in 10 years. If it costs $25 or more for a single person to take what should be a 15-20 minute ride across the river, I’ll be screaming what was the point along with the rest of you.

For now, I think we should all let the process play out a little further and share our feedback with the city. There are still a lot of steps before the project becomes a reality and there is still a lot of time for people to speak up about it.

Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate.