Calgary-based Stonecreek Properties has presented Canmore with a proposal for a massive and innovative conference-hotel-casino development that would include two gondolas ascending the slopes of Mount Lady MacDonald from the company’s Silvertip Resort.
The proposed $1-billion project includes a 200,000- to 300,000-square-foot conference centre and casino, along with a 1,300-room hotel.
Silvertip Resort CEO Guy Turcotte told the CBC that if built, it would be one of the largest conference centres in the country.
“It would be two gondolas. One would start by the Trans-Canada Highway, off the Palliser Trail, and that happens to also be where we’ve got land zoning for 850 employee housing units,” he said.
“Our employees could take the gondola to the mid-station, which is where the large-scale development would be, and from there, the gondola would go up about two kilometres to the old Mount Lady MacDonald tea house that was built in the late 1980s and never really got off the ground.”
At an open house in Canmore in February, some residents said they have environmental concerns about the gondola, while others spoke out against the casino aspect.
“We have spoken to the province about having a gondola to the old abandoned teahouse that was started up there in the late ’80s and never finished,” Turcotte said at a recent luncheon held by the Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association (BOWDA). “But there was never really an approval process and the province didn’t know how or if it should go to the next step.
“We have, I am going to say, developed a process with the province and we are going through a voluntary environmental impact assessment [EIA] for our project, which was not mandatory.
“We didn’t need to do an environmental impact assessment, but we have volunteered to do that on our own.”
A draft terms of reference for the EIA has been developed and Turcotte said it should be out for public input soon.
Turcotte said the gondola would be able to attract visitors to the resort, and employees, without adding congestion or vehicular traffic on the steep access road to the subdivision.
“That should alleviate any traffic uses we see at places like the Banff Sulphur Mountain gondola,” Turcotte said.
Turcotte said by building a gondola, it will allow more people who are not able to hike up the mountain the ability to get to the top anyway.
“We will provide an opportunity for them to do that; but the number one thing we are going to protect and ensure is that locals will continue to hike up the mountain and safely,” he said.
Ride to town centre
But the gondola idea could also be expanded toward the town centre and even up to the Nordic Centre, Turcotte hinted during a question and answer period.
“We have spoken to the Town of Canmore about potentially having a gondola to connect downtown,” Turcotte said.
Michael Fark, general manager of municipal infrastructure for the municipality, indicated a gondola is a possibility and may be worth investigating.
“This would come out of the area structure plan,” Fark said. “The town is not currently exploring any aspect of the gondola concept. That is the responsibility of Mr. Turcotte.”
Turcotte said the same consultant that worked on the Sea to Sky Gondola developed in Squamish, B.C. is also working on his feasibility study.
By bringing a new experience to Canmore, he said, local hotels could also see a boost in occupancy similar to what happened in Squamish after that gondola opened in 2014.
“That is what we see happening here,” Turcotte said. “But it is not in our area structure plan, and that is why we are bringing it to the community; to be wide open and get public input.”
Canmore resident Cyd Fraser asked the developer to also keep the Nordic Centre in mind when it comes to possibilities for the gondola. An experienced event organizer, Fraser said one of the biggest challenges is getting people from downtown to the Nordic Centre for special events and races.
Fraser noted Calgary has a bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics that would include events in Canmore, so there may be even further incentive to develop a gondola as a form of public transit.
“That is a timely question,” Turcotte said.
Turcotte already has approval for the conference centre, but town council and the province have yet to approve the casino and gondola portions of the project.