By Trevor Busch
The Taber and District Chamber of Commerce is considering construction of a replacement building serving hybrid purposes, including agricultural interpretive features and providing tourist information.
At their Oct. 27 meeting, town council voted unanimously to accept the presentation from the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce Building Committee delegation for information. Over 2014, the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce board has formed a sub-committee to evaluate options related to a new building.
“At a chamber meeting in February, it was brought up what to do with the funds that had accumulated in our building fund,” said committee chair Harry Prummel.
“There’s a substantial amount of money in that account, so we have to do something with that. That discussion brought up the possibility of developing a property east of the Western Financial building.
The committee has evaluated the potential purpose of a new structure, with plans including a revamped tourist information centre, community meeting rooms, parking lots for RVs and travellers, an RV dumping station, and a play area.
“It could house numerous ventures, including the museum, tourist information, of course the chamber of commerce, and there have been other inquiries as to what could go in there as well,” said Prummel.
Tenants being considered for a proposed building include the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce, Taber Irrigation Impact Museum, as well as a “confirmed anchor” tenant.
“After several meetings of the committee we had investigated several properties, and have connected with a long-term tenant that would be interested. The day-to-day operations of this project would be covered with this tenant, and it’s a very substantial tenant.”
The location being considered for a new building would be directly east of the current Western Financial. The chamber building committee has had preliminary discussions with the Taber and District Museum Society.
“We feel as a chamber it’s time for us to move forward,” said Prummel.
“We will welcome any travellers that come to our town along the highway to stop by and see what Taber has to offer. An RV pull-through will enhance that property as far as people stopping in, and they can see what Taber has to offer — which is a lot. We would hope that the agricultural industries and the oil industry would also benefit from this, because they could showcase their wares in this building.”
Plans for the proposed facility include parking lots for cars, trucks and RVs, green space (done in co-operation with Taber Communities in Bloom), maps of the area showing where crops are grown and how irrigation impacts the area, the history of irrigation and what it looks like today (including sample plots of crops that are grown in the area), hands on exhibits for kids to learn about our industries (tailored for the Grade 6 agricultural curriculum), and community rooms and bathrooms.
The committee stressed the proposed building would not be a multi-million dollar project, but rather a functional building costing a reasonable amount. The delegation was, however, hesitant to provide any concrete financial estimates, instead asking council “to engage in this project as we move forward”.
“We are at this point looking for comments, considerations, where to go from here, because we want to exhaust if this is even an option for the Town of Taber to pursue at this time,” said committee member Bruce Warkentin. “We’re not looking for funding at this point in time, we’re just looking to wisely invest our money whether that be a new building, or whether it be something else.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas nonetheless pressed forward on the issue, referencing a past proposal to construct an agricultural interpretive centre in the downtown that had included cost estimates of more than $10 million.
“Do you have any tentative budget figures? The town has been down this road before, and hopefully we’re not going to go to the tune we went previously.”
Warkentin indicated the proposal was still in a formulative phase for the chamber committee, but that any building proposal would certainly be less cost that what had been considered in the past.
Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux appeared to welcome a dialogue on the subject with the chamber, and urged them to move forward with their plans.
“I agree with Councillor Popadynetz, I think this is long overdue. The current tourist information centre that we have right now is not exactly user-friendly. Now that we have the availability of the land to the east of Western Financial, it’s a really good opportunity to explore this and I’d like to see you move forward with it.”
Coun. Randy Sparks was also cautiously on side without seeing any preliminary figures or design ideas.
“This is a very worthwhile project for the future of the Town of Taber, and a very worthwhile project to look into. I know it’s very tough for you to answer questions about dollars and cents, because we don’t have the scope of this at this time. If council decides to have a representative on your committee, then all these questions can be answered at a future date.”
The chamber committee also requested a member of town council be appointed to the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce Building Committee, a suggestion which received some token resistance from Coun. Sparks.
“I think council should take some opportunity to talk about this. It seems like every week there is a committee that is requesting a councillor from the Town of Taber be on it. It’s starting to be a very daunting task, because there seems to be more and more constraints on our time.”
Prummel confirmed the committee could work within the current representative relationship that exists between the two organizations.
“We could liaison through Rick (Coun. Popadynetz) as far as our meetings go, so he can bring information back to council. We have enough bodies on the chamber that we can move forward if that works for you guys.”