Bon Accord pursues development
Project conceived as an observatory, business incubator and library
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 08, 2014 06:00 am
The small town of Bon Accord is exploring the stars, and thus enticing both tourists and developers alike.
The town of 1,500 is looking to build a dark sky observatory, housed in a multi-use facility with the town’s library and a new business incubator, surrounded by a business park.
Economic development manager Patrick Earl said the European, town-square-like concept on the outskirts of town would help build up tourism, create business momentum and – in the long run – lower the residential tax burden.
“Every town needs an idea like this to be sustainable on the commercial side,” he said. “A lot of people are moving into urban centres nowadays. Towns are finding it harder to survive because residential taxes increase and they don’t get a lot of commercial development.”
According to the Capital Region Board, Bon Accord’s population is expected to double by 2050. Similar to St. Albert, the town has a heavy residential tax base and not much of a commercial base, Earl said.
Bon Accord had to come up with an idea to minimize taxes and keep the town sustainable, he said. A hobby astronomer, he said the concept for the project came to him from a new brand the town was working on.
In 2012, Bon Accord held its first Summer Skies Equinox Festival – which saw about 1,200 visitors from around the capital region. The event promotes the town as an urban area dark sky community, a designation Bon Accord is now applying for with the International Dark-Sky Association.
Having an observatory in the community fit the idea, said Earl, and would help get development going.
“Because we are one of the smaller communities in the region the idea was attracting tourism to help bring the numbers into the facility,” he said. “And then a lot of the commercial development we would hope would also be based off of tourism.”
For now, the concept includes a five-acre business park, with the 20,000-square-foot observatory facility in its middle. The building is expected to cost between $3 million and $5 million.
While the town already budgeted $30,000 for an engineering study, the project itself depends on financing through government agencies, public sources and private developers, Earl said.
With the observatory as the main attraction piece, he is hoping for government funding based on its educational and tourism aspects, while developers and private investors would finance other parts of the project and the surrounding business park, based on an increase in tourism dollars.
The incubator would also serve to attract new entrepreneurs, he said, who could later settle in the business park that is expected to include both residential and commercial buildings.
Earl said he is taking a unique approach by talking to all stakeholders at once but that’s necessary to promise the project’s success. If the town can’t get a developer at the table, then it becomes a bit of a sad news story, he said.
“We didn’t just want to build the building and then try to chase development,” he said. “The idea is the building isn’t feasible or sustainable without development surrounding it so we look at it in that aspect.”
Since initial design work on the project hasn’t begun and the town is still working on finding a fitting parcel of land, Earl said town council expects it will take between three and five years for the project to develop.
But the project has already spurred interest, he said, with the sale of two town-owned parcels of land to developers.