By Trevor Busch
Taber and District Chamber of Commerce has pitched town council the construction of a permanent stage and dance area for community events in Confederation Park.
At their Jan. 11 meeting, town council voted unanimously (6-0) to support the chamber regarding a permanent Cornfest stage, with more information to come at future council meetings from both parties concerning the project. Coun. Jack Brewin was absent from the meeting.
“Last year at a joint meeting of the chamber, the M.D. and town council, we discussed briefly the thought of a permanent stage in the park for Cornfest,” said Tom Paterson, heading a three-person delegation from the chamber at council’s Jan. 11 meeting. “After last year it became evident that we really have to do something long term about the stage. Last year was my ninth year, and for the first seven years, the people with Venture (Holdings) rolled in, put up the stage, and there wasn’t much for us to worry about. The last two years, we were in charge of it, and when you start doing it yourself, you realize there’s a little bit more to it than just having the boys put it up.”
According to the delegation, the proposed permanent stage and dance area would be approximately the same size as the portable stage used for Cornfest, and if constructed would be located in approximately the same area of Confederation Park.
“With the numbers of volunteers dropping all the time, and the amount of work, it’s just become something that, I think, long term has to be dealt with,” continued Paterson. “It’s more than just rolling it in and just setting it up. There’s a lot of things that go on, on that Thursday night — in fact we’ve started on Wednesday the last couple of years because we weren’t sure how this thing was going to go together, making sure it was done in time, and that’s another day that we ask volunteers to come in and help put this together.”
According to information provided to town council by the delegation, if approved, all work on the project is to be contracted through a tendering process by the chamber, and built according to current safety codes and standards; the project will be completely funded by the chamber, and the completed structure is intended to be as “vandal proof” as possible; and the stage will be open to all groups within the community to use.
“For the town, probably a stage in the park would be more of a want than a need, but I would suggest that from the chamber’s point of view, it’s much more of a need than a want,” said Paterson. “It’s our single biggest event, there’s no question. When that event started 30 years ago, we had a downtown full of merchants and lots of people to draw on, but that list is sadly getting shorter and shorter all the time. We have some funds set aside for building. The stage is part of our planned equipment for putting on that event. We’ve budgeted the funds to build that stage — with our funds — and we just would like the town to help us out with giving us the real estate to put it on.”
The structure would be built by licensed contractors in the exact location of the current Cornfest stage, using the existing power pedestal, and would face east to shelter it from prevailing southwest winds.
“Projects, when they come here, are not a want but a desire, and people should buck up,” said chamber representative Mark Garner. “And I think it Taber we have a tradition of doing that, if you look at the spray park, the skateboard park, that’s how things happen. In our community, we don’t wait for things to happen, we make things happen here. We as a chamber would like to fund this project fully, and make it happen. Especially in tough economic times, we’re not asking for any money from the town, or council, to do this. We’ve scrimped and saved over the years and put money aside to do a project like this, and we think this is the time to do it.”
According to Garner, who provided some preliminary numbers on the size and scope of the proposed project, the chamber is considering construction of a 40’x40’ concrete dance floor, and a 40’x24’ permanent stage.
“We’d like to build it as soon as possible, hopefully our goal is to use it this year. We’d like to build it as bomb-proof and as vandal-proof as we possibly could. We would tender the work out to actual contractors, and we’ll approach some businesses with regard to gravel, cement, or whatever they feel they would like to donate. But we would have skilled tradesmen doing the work. We feel for the longevity of this excellent community event that we call Cornfest, that it’s the proper time to invest in the future of Cornfest.”
Potential uses for a completed structure include July 1 celebrations, community auctions, Cornfest, Easter celebrations, charity events, plays, auction events, ethnic group celebrations, “theatre in the park” or “movie in the park”, community talent shows, and jazz festivals, among others.
“I’ve been involved with Cornfest since day one,” said Jean Bullock, who rounded out the three person delegation from the chamber. “Cornfest is the largest event in Taber, and we’re going into our 31st year of this community-minded event. We believe our community plans a free, fun-filled family weekend for everyone. This would not be possible without the financial support of the town, the M.D., and all of our sponsors. We have 20 diamond sponsors, 15 platinum, 14 gold, 37 silver, 64 bronze, and over 50 to 75 local volunteers. This is a total of over 200 plus community-minded people that really want something positive for Cornfest, and something positive for Cornfest is a permanent stage.”
Paterson confirmed the chamber’s intent for the project, once completed, would be to transfer its ownership, maintenance, and operation to the Town of Taber.
“Our intent would be a gift to the town. It becomes town property, with the only caveat that we get it for four days. It’s your park, it’s best handled by your people. However you wanted to handle it would be up to you. There’s no utilities. There’s the power box that is there now. We’re not going to electrify it.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas was strongly opposed to such a proposition, suggesting the facility, once constructed, should remain in the hands of the organization that funded and completed it.
“I think it’s great what you’re doing here. I’d like to see it be designed so it fits the landscape, as far as trees and decor over there. I don’t want to see a grey concrete structure sitting out there. The one problem I have with this here, and I’ll let you guys take it into consideration, is that this is a chamber project, it’s going to be a chamber building after — I would prefer that the chamber take it, book it, maintain it, utilize it, and look after it, so it stays out of the town’s hands. I’m a big proponent of when projects get done like this here, that somebody takes ownership rather than it being dumped on the town for it to look after and maintain for all the years. I would prefer that they retain ownership — of course it would be town property — but take over the management of it.”
Raising some preliminary concerns over Strojwas’ suggested management scenario for the facility, Paterson indicated it would have to be a question resolved by the chamber board.
“That’s something we’d have to take back to the board. We’d have to look at the continuity of the whole thing. But it’s your park — what events can we do? That’s always going to be the issue, is what we book, is that always going to be what you want booked? That’s why we felt, left in your hands, there’s never going to be any conflict with what the chamber’s doing, and what’s happening in the town park. Because you have other events going on.”
Strojwas continued to campaign for the facility to remain under the control of the chamber rather than the town once it was completed.
“If there’s going to be one event in the park, obviously someone is going to want to utilize that. That takes and puts the onus totally on the chamber, which is comprised of the business community, and there’s the manpower to utilize that. I don’t think the town would argue if the chamber’s putting on an event, whether it fits into what the town wants to do or not. These are town people, businesses in town, and what you want to put in that facility, I don’t see why it would conflict with what the town has or wants to do. In my opinion, you should take it back to your board and take ownership of it, and look after it yourselves.”
Objections raised to Strojwas’ position on the issue by other members of council included the prospect of confusing booking procedures, as it was suggested by the delegation that few individuals would consider booking a recreational facility located on town-owned land through the chamber rather than the Town of Taber; how public waiver requests for events would be processed considering the chamber is not an elected body representative of the public; and a need for centralized administration to more effectively co-ordinate multiple bookings in Confederation Park to avoid conflicting events occurring simultaneously.
“For logistics, I can see that it probably would be better if the town looked after the bookings themselves,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger.
Garner indicated the chamber was seeking swift approval of the project considering the timeline it had established for completion prior to Cornfest 2016.
“If we could proceed forward with this project in a timely fashion, we would like to see this happen this spring — construction of it — so that we could use it for this coming Cornfest. Also, we would like to suggest having Cory Armfelt (planning director) on that steering committee as a liaison between the town and the chamber. He’s involved in development, and he can help us steer that and make sure that there’s some adequate input there between the town and chamber.”
A Request for Decision on the proposal was not included for later in the meeting, as the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce Cornfest Committee only provided initial information to council prior to the Jan. 11 meeting, and no other information was provided.
“If you’re going to bring something to a council meeting, I would really like you to get that information to our administration so it can be included in the package previous,” said Coun. Randy Sparks. “Administration should be involved in this process, because if the town is going to take over stewardship of this after, the bidding process and the tender process may be slightly different, because the town has certain rules and regulations they must follow within the bidding process and tendering. If the town’s going to take that over, administration needs to be involved with this, and administration had no information previous to this. And they should have, so that they can make comment on the process that needs to be done if the Town of Taber is taking this over.”
Paterson appeared resistant to the suggestion town administration would need to be involved in the tendering process.
“We apologize for that. As far as the tendering, I don’t see why administration should be involved in that. We’re going to take care of that part, similar to the way the spray park and the skateboard park (were done). What we’re suggesting is that we bring in finished goods, and say here you go, that’s yours. So you don’t have to be involved in that part, so you’re not burdened with that.”
Several councillors immediately threw their support behind the project as a benefit to the town and surrounding area.
“It’s a great project, and I’m sure it would be good thing for the entire community to have a permanent stage in our park,” said Coun. Rick Popadynetz. “I’ve seen a permanent stage in a lot of other communities being utilized.”
Mayor DeVlieger echoed Popadynetz’s sentiments.
“I think it’s great that a community-minded organization wants to come and donate a big project like this to our town. It’s tough to say no to that, especially if it’s going to benefit a lot of other functions that we could have.”
Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux counselled time was needed to weigh some of the broad strokes surrounding the project in anticipation of a more detailed project plan in future.
“I think it’s brilliant, and I think it’s overdue. It’s going to be a really great addition to our park. But obviously there’s food for thought on both sides of the table here, we’ve got to go back and do some more homework on both sides. I’m sure we can reach an accommodation.”