By J.W. Schnarr
A visitor’s centre located near downtown Taber could be a boon to local businesses and be a welcome addition for visitors and local residents, according to the past president of the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce.
At Municipal District of Taber’s regular council meeting on Nov. 25, Past President Bruce Warkentin outlined some of the planning for a potential facility through the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce Building Committee.
“Our vision for that would be an excuse for people to come off the highway,” said Warkentin.
He added the scope of the project is still under development, but some features could include anything from a simple parking lot and rest area with washrooms and a tourist information centre, to some thing much more complex and developed.
“It can go all the way from just a turn-out to incorporating many different aspects to it,” he said.
Warkentin identified the main focus areas for the project to be getting more people off the highway, and teaching them what Taber and the local agriculture lifestyle is all about.
“Most people don’t know how Ag works,” said Warkentin. “Even people in town don’t go out to the fields.”
“If you remember five years ago, there was talk of a $10 million (project), Taj Mahal, they called it, with fancy things, and very grandiose. I want to contrast that with what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to (focus on) function and traffic.”
The tourist information centre saw 300 visitors over the summer, according to Warkentin. However, there is no way of knowing how those numbers compare with past years, as he said that data wasn’t available before, but that he’s hoping to continue tracking that data in order to get a better idea of the usage of the service.
“If it was in a better location, would you get more people?” asked Deputy Reeve Dwight Tolton.
“The answer to that would be a resounding, ‘yes’,” replied Warkentin.
“In our case, we’re looking at the chamber actually owning it, and then we’ll have some partners in the building as well who would defer some of the costs,” he said. “We actually have a business model, so it’s not strictly a money hit.”
As part of that model, Warkentin said the chamber has begun setting aside funds in a building reserve.
Division 4 Coun. Ben Elfring said it would be helpful is some local businesses, such as coffee shops, could take up space in the building, as rental fees could help cover operating costs and more.
“I know a lot of the (information centres around Alberta) have a lot extra tenants, and it’s sure saving them a pile of money in their day-to-day costs.”
Tolton asked if the chamber had considered RV users in their plans, who find it difficult to access the Taber Community Centre due to parking issues. Warkentin said RV parking and usage issues are currently being considered.
“We’d incorporate a much larger parking area with maybe an RV dump or something, like a little playground for the kids. What I’m excited about is greenspace along there with trees and stuff, so it looks like it’s attractive from the highway. That’s what people want to pull off and see.”
“Trying to park a car where these guys are (currently located) is difficult, I can’t imagine an RV,” said Tolton.
Warkentin said if the visitor information centre was closer to downtown table, more local residents would have a chance to use it as well.
“If you’re going to get people in to downtown, (the information centre) would have to be a little bit closer,” he said.
Warkentin stressed the project is still in early idea stages currently, and nothing has moved beyond passing around ideas for potential features should the project move ahead.
“Everything is in the idea stage at this point,” he said. “We haven’t put any dollar signs onto anything yet. All we have in principle is that the town likes the idea, so they are willing to work with going down this road, and seeing how far we go, and see if it’s doable, and if there are economic reasons to do it.”