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Our View (Editorial)

One-time opportunity
reprinted from Red Deer Advocate (Greg Neiman) February 8, 2010

Let's set aside throne speeches, Parliaments, taxes and frozen windrows of snow for a while and think about something really important: a model rail museum and theme park for Riverlands.

The first time you hear of a tourism-themed idea like this, the normal reaction is: "What the heck are you thinking about?"

If the idea cannot climb over that first reaction, it is dead. Witness the proposal for a set of canals running through the downtown area.

Now, if I had to make a choice between living in a city with a waterpark extending several kilometres through our city core, surrounded by greenery, shops, restaurants and festival sites, or a transportation-themed museum surrounded by greenery, shops, restaurants and festival sites, I still like the canals.

But that's just me. The majority definitely rules here, and I realize I'm more likely to be tossed into a canal than to canoe along one in Red Deer.

However, quite early after the public defeat of the canals option has come another, with different options and appeals, and it's worth spending time thinking about the possibilities.

Of all cities, Red Deer is in a unique position. We have a major land redevelopment opportunity on some rather pretty waterfront, that happens to be physically connected to the economic and cultural heart of the city.

We have recent planning agreements with our two neighbouring counties to preserve our joint riverlands corridor as a connected and protected greenway stretching many kilometres both upstream and downstream of the city. We are at the south end of a major public trails initiative that will quite soon traverse many kilometres of rather pretty countryside and farmland, all the way to Ponoka.

Given the size of these tourism assets, and their natural connection to our downtown, we'd be fools not to think big, when we think about Riverlands.

Our opportunity to remake and re-think our very self-identity as a city makes Red Deer the envy of virtually all others. We've been talking about downtown redevelopment for more than 25 years now and pretty well all we've been able to produce are award-winning plans.

Well, that's as much -- and probably more -- than most Canadian centres have accomplished. It is extremely hard to do this work.

But history has afforded Red Deer a chance to redevelop a very large parcel of riverfront land that connects to downtown, which is something no other city has at this stage. There just isn't any more new space to develop in city heartlands -- especially in a reasonably natural setting.

So we can't let this opportunity pass. We need to make this redevelopment into something the whole world can look at and not say: "What the heck were they thinking?" but rather: "Gee, I wish we had the chance to do something like that."

It became clear fairly soon that a canals option wasn't what we had in mind.

Might it be a model railway museum and transportation theme park? Don't say no right away, just because it's novel or unusual, or might cost you some money up front.

If links can include a future Riverlands greenway, as well as other attractions outside the city limits, there are huge possibilities in this.

We want something to showcase our city and our new downtown area for visitors, but we also want something that enhances our lives here every day.

Believe it or not, our downtown is still the major economic engine of the city. It is a high-density employment zone, and it is becoming increasingly attractive as a high-density residential zone. A huge portion of Red Deer residents live within a 20-minute walk of the downtown.

So we owe it to ourselves to think long into the future when we think about Riverlands, Alexander Way and the whole downtown area.

This opportunity will never come again.

News articles about the Forth Junction Heritage Society (more below):
       News article: World-class destination centre still in the works (Innisfail Province Nov.2013)
       Editorial: Praise today's big dream
(Innisfail Province Jan.2012)
       Editorial: Railway concept captures region's uniqueness (Olds Albertan Jan.2012)
       Feature article: Forth Junction targets county
(Mountain View Gazette Dec.2011)
       News article: Forth Junction pulling toward a new station
(Red Deer Advocate Dec.2011)

News articles related to ACR/CPR Mintlaw bridge mentioning the Forth Junction Heritage Society:
       News article: Plans for Mintlaw Bridge waiting on public feedback
(Mountain View Gazette Feb.2012)
       News article: Opposition comes forward to Mintlaw Bridge preservation
(Mountain View Gazette May 2011)
       News article: RD County antes up for Mintlaw Bridge repairs
(Mountain View Gazette Nov.2010)
       News article: Bridging gap between history and disrepair
(Red Deer Advocate Nov.2010)

News article related to regional model and miniature railways mentioning the Forth Junction Project:

       News article: Trains still roll for some
(Red Deer Advocate Nov.2012)

News articles related to historic downtown Red Deer redevelopment mentioning the Forth Junction Project
(the original vision of the Forth Junction Heritage Society included an attraction in the new downtown
Riverlands but this vision was modified to have one destination close to the city and active rail line):

       News article: Railyards: Open house on a 20-year plan for downtown
(Red Deer Advocate June 2011)
       News article: Riverlands: Strong turnout for open house
(Red Deer Advocate March 2011)
       Commentary: Red Deer could use more bold visionary landmark designers
(Red Deer Express Sep.2010)

Michael Dawe articles related to regional railway heritage mentioning the Forth Junction Heritage Society:
       Region celebrating century of railroad heritage (Red Deer Express March 2010)
       Mintlaw Bridge essential to region's railroad heritage (Red Deer Express March 2010)


 News articles about the Forth Junction Heritage Society:
World-class destination centre still in the works 11/13       Praise today's big dream 01/12       Forth Junction targets county 12/11 
Forth Junction pulling toward a new station
12/11        A volunteer on the right track 12/10        Tourism board supports rail project 10/10
Forth Junction rail project seeking charitable status
10/10        Rail tourist attraction idea gets rolling 07/10        Railway heritage 06/10
New idea for Riverlands worth an Olympic cheer 02/10       Happy to hear more talk on large-scale attractions 02/10
One-time opportunity 02/10       Tourism proposal facing obstacles 02/10       World-class attraction proposed for Riverlands 02/10

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