Thursday, March 18, 2010

Concept for a Major Tourist and Community Destination

Over the past several months, a group of modellers, transportation enthusiasts, historians and people interested in developing a major visitor and community attraction for Red Deer have met to discuss ideas for such a draw based on a ground transportation theme with a particular focus on how the railway served as a catalyst for the economic development of the region.

The group is now incorporated as the Forth Junction Heritage Society and several presentations have been made to various civic officials, historians, advocacy groups and people of influence in order to determine if the community would likely support the concepts of dual multi-use attractors with a transportation theme. Virtually all of the roughly 60 people briefed liked the concepts and viewed them as authentic to the region, marketable and complimentary to existing initiatives.

One of the attractors proposed includes a 100,000 sq. ft. fun family entertainment-heritage-retail centre based on a trails, trains and transit theme located in the new Riverlands redevelopment area in the central part of the city as a unique architectural landmark close to the river and the much-valued trail system. The centre would include a large multi-use gathering area, indoor transportation theme park, interactive transportation heritage museum, historical model railway museum, shopping centre and tower restaurant.

The facility would integrate with a possible future hotel and convention centre, cultural facilities, proposed housing, the existing historic downtown, existing railway icons, a variety of transit services and the river valley. It would feature at least two elements unique in Canada and draw people from all over North America.

The second attractor would be a 50 to 100 acre nature and heritage park somewhere on the edge of the city close to the existing main CPR rail line between Calgary and Edmonton. It would feature a variety of replicated railway stations that were once the community centrepieces of most Central Alberta towns and would be used for a variety of purposes including bed and breakfasts, overnight accommodation, heritage interpretive centres and possibly small shops. The park would link with a regional trail system and would preferably be close to the former Alberta Central Railway line, now abandoned. The park would also feature family-oriented outdoor recreational features including a miniature train that carries passengers.

At one of the two attractors would be a replication of 'The Chinook', a semi-streamlined CPR Jubilee locomotive that represented 'high-speed' passenger service from the mid-1930s to mid-1950s between Calgary and Edmonton. Of the five originally built, none have survived.

The society also supports the development of regional trails using former railway rights-of-way, regional transit, high-speed rail service connecting Alberta's two largest cities with a stop in Red Deer, the completion of 'The Arches' project and the development of Alexander Way as a pedestrian-friendly corridor in downtown Red Deer, the integration of regional heritage sites and icons through heritage tours and the branding of the city and region based on transportation and distribution.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the society is getting the full support of the community in a concept based on the railway considering at least a third of the current population of the city has no recollection of the railway's presence and significance to the region's economic development.

Although full build-out of the proposal could take up to twenty years to be realized, it is expected that some elements could be developed in as little as three years.

In the meantime, small sections of the historical model railway will be constructed as modules designed to be connected for shows and displays until a permanent home can be found. Further research will be conducted and documents obtained for the basis of the future museum and for a proposed book. The concepts will be further promoted as opportunites arise and further ideas obtained to gradually achieve continued buy-in and involvement from the community.