Western Investor
October 30, 2012

Such events will help add to hotel occupancy during the slower winter tourism season, when visitation to key attractions such as the famous dinosaurs and the Royal Tyrrell Museum decline.

Of note, the BCF can also welcome up to 750 guests in one location for convention-related events. That's key for a place with hotel capacity to spare during conference season - especially one that's less than 90 minutes from Calgary and another hour from Edmonton.

"I think that [the BCF] is probably the biggest news in Drumheller," said economic development officer Bob Cromwell, a former city dweller who gushes enthusiastically about the beauty of the Badlands.

"We seem to be quite targeted right now by various businesses and associations in having their conferences here," he added.

While visitors to Drumheller may not notice other changes - a new $20 million Catholic school and $22 million in public-school upgrades - those improvements are important steps for a community that is one part tourism draw, another part agriculture and petroleum service and a third part regional service centre.

Infrastructure-wise, Drumheller has been making important strides as well, notes Cromwell, with $22 million spent recently on wastewater-system improvements and another $4 million to extend water mains to the more rural parts of the river valley municipality.

As well, the city will spend roughly $2 million starting late this fall on renovating former library space to accommodate a move of the town office into the downtown core, something that should be another enhancement for the tree-lined streets of the former mining town.

While building-permit numbers the past few years have dropped off somewhat (the big-ticket public projects were permitted in 2010 or earlier), the town still recorded about $10.7 million in new-building activity in 2011 and another $8.5 million for the first nine months of 2012.

100 years

Drumheller will mark its centennial in 2013, and things appear to be looking up as 100 years as a community loom. For starters the tourism business has been good in 2012, with visitor numbers up by as much as 20 per cent according to Cromwell.

Heather Bitz, general manager of the Drumheller & District Chamber of Commerce, shares that conclusion.

"From the [tourism operators] I've talked to I would say it's been a pretty good season," she said, noting the community's tourism businesses have also been making changes. The largest hotel operator with four properties, Canalta Hotels, has added meeting space for smaller conferences while the new owners of the Drumheller Inn are upgrading the 100-room property whose height makes it a valley landmark.

There are also new retail businesses in the downtown core, Bitz says, but nothing more in the way of large retailers. Drumheller is already home to some of the country's more common big-box stores, such as Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire and chains such as Shoppers Drug Mart, making it a draw for the region's shoppers.

While it may not be evident in the valley, there are also a few other things happening in the Drumheller region, development wise.

Wind-power projects are being initiated, creating potential in the industrial service sector. As well, there's expansion work going on at Drumheller Institution, a medium-security prison south of town.

Property-wise, residential values have increased about 2.25 per cent in the last couple of years, with detached houses averaging $240,000 on 79 sales in the first nine months of 2012. That's a greater number of sales in nine months than what sold in all of 2010.


Industrial space appears to be harder to find, according to longtime local realtor Bob Sheddy, who does business in several Alberta markets and is the broker of record for Century 21 Power Realty in Airdrie.

"[The Drumheller] industrial vacancy has continued to tighten to the point where we
 don't have some spaces available for certain sizes of industrial 
tenants, and we're going to have to get creative this fall," Sheddy said. "This 
tight vacancy is going to create a great opportunity for some 
investors looking to buy some two- or four-bay industrial shops in the
 coming year."

Sheddy says annual per-square-foot lease rates on industrial properties range from about $9.50 to $13.10.

Buyers can expect to pay from between $42,000 per acre in country rural industrial areas to $100,000 in an industrial area with
 streetlights, gutters and all services.

Commercial land along the
 highways in town has sold for around $1 million per acre in some
 circumstances, but typically settles in at around $400,000 per acre, Sheddy says.

Significantly, while the 
inquiries for land almost all but shut off from 2008 to 2011, Sheddy said, "Now we're starting to get offers on land from pure speculators who see
 Drumheller as a smart place to invest."

While the energy and agriculture sectors affect Drumheller, other factors can also influence the real estate market.


Recently the shooting of scenes in the movie Seventh Son starring Jeff Bridges pumped up local hotel occupancy and boosted hospitality revenue, notes Cromwell. While the majority of the film was shot in the Vancouver area, the potential for the Badlands from the film seems untapped. Indeed, Seventh Son's opening Imax scene, with the wonders of the Badlands, may turn out to be a powerful ad for the area.

And, notes Cromwell, what happens in Hollywood can influence demand for many things. Just ask the hospitality entrepreneurs in dinosaur-friendly Drumheller, who remember a little flick from the 1980s called Jurassic Park.

from Western Investor November 2012

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