Turcotte pitches $1 billion vision for Silvertip

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The future development scenario being considered for Silvertip in Canmore includes employee housing, a gondola, conference centre and gaming as integral parts of a grand vision for a $1 billion tourism investment project.

Stonecreek Properties president Guy Turcotte took an opportunity at the recent Bow Valley Builders and Developers Association luncheon to unveil the next phase of a vision for the resort since its area structure plan was approved in 2007.

Turcotte believes the resort development needs to move forward as one large $1 billion project in order to be successful and it must include employee housing from day one, a gondola to the top of Lady Macdonald, and a gaming component.

“We have to build this place all in one go for us to succeed and compete on an international basis,” he said. “What we believe is if we can build this in one go, it will deliver an entertainment, leisure, meeting experience like no other in the Canadian Rockies; right here in Canmore.”

As for the gaming component, Turcotte said it is necessary to get financing, but added people shouldn’t expect a big flashy casino to be the main attraction for Silvertip.

“We don’t think it will be a large component, it won’t be front and centre in your face, but we believe it is important,” he said. “I have financed lots of significant projects, but this does involve gaming and that is new to our process and that is not in our area structure plan. That is why we are bringing this forward and we are looking for community input.”

In order to include gaming as part of the resort, an amendment to the area structure plan would be needed and that requires three readings of an amending bylaw by council and a public hearing. The ASP would also need to be changed to include the development of a gondola, but the conference centre, 10-13 boutique hotels and visitor accommodation are already part of the approved land uses and already envisioned in the ASP.

Financing a $1 billion project may seem like a daunting task to most people, but Turcotte has experience leading major infrastructure projects like the $5 billion Alliance pipeline and he also started a company that had a 20 per cent stake in a $5.7 billion oilsands project.

“I know where to go to get the money, but I haven’t even tried to get the money yet because we don’t have all the right business components in place,” he said, referring to approvals needed to build a gondola, flood mitigation for employee housing and gaming.

Turcotte said international tourism represents an area of growth for Canmore, and the resort would represent a five-star attraction to bring international travellers to Canada. International travellers are known to spend more per capita in a destination than regional visitors.

International visitation was 935 million in 2010, and it is anticipated to reach 1.6 billion people travelling around the world each year by 2020. Turcotte pointed to the work of Destination Canada, the country’s destination marketing organization, which is working to get visitation to Canada over 20 million visits a year by the end of the decade.

International travel to Canada has dipped, and Turcotte said other destinations are investing heavily in tourism to compete for those international visitors.

“Tourism creates jobs, so that is why countries are investing in it,” he said. “But for a variety of reasons, the Canadian numbers have been decreasing and we have not been getting our share from the tourism pie.”

With investment into tourism, including private capital, Turcotte said the resort plans would create a new tourism product and that is the backdrop of his business plan. A big part of tourism development as well, he said, are meetings, conferences and incentive travel, which is why Silvertip’s latest development plan includes 300,000 square feet of conference centre space.

“We do not really have five-star, I’m going to say, large conference space in our resort areas,” he said about the Bow Valley. “We believe our project here, focused on that market, will be successful.

“We believe planning a large scale $1 billion project positions the company to take advantage of this opportunity and we think we can grow the market by one million visitors a year in another decade.”

Turcotte used Marina Bay Sands in Singapore as an example of how a major resort can be developed and successful. The 2,550-room resort with 1.2 million square feet of conference space spent $5.5 billion before even opening its doors and has seen an occupancy rate in the high 90 per cent range since opening.

“I came to the conclusion we have the project, we just have to build it all at one time,” Turcotte said. “That is what I have been working on over the last three to four years.”

The 1,300 visitor accommodation units would be within 10 to 13 boutique hotels and he said the conference centre would not only provide guests for those rooms, but for other hotels throughout the valley.

“In terms of the conference facility, this I would say is the piece of our village that we have landed on more recently that we feel would really allow us to have a backbone piece to our resort,” Turcotte said.

Turcotte said the 2013 steep mountain creek floods affected the proposed development project because Stoneworks Creek flooded lands the company owns on Palliser Trail and are designated for employee housing.

“These lands are now going to be mitigated and we didn’t get all the reports until November last year, so we could not really firmly move ahead with our plans,” he said. “Employee housing is a key part of our development, so now that we know the mitigation on the lands, that has given us a lot more confidence to come forward.”

He said employee housing has to be part of the development from day one in order for it to be successful as well. Turcotte said Silvertip has been providing staff accommodation since 2006 at the golf course and clubhouse.

Currently, Silvertip has 350 residential units, the majority of which are single-family homes. The future development plan includes 400 residential units, 1,300 resort accommodation units and 850 employee housing units.

Two open houses are planned for public feedback on the project. Feb. 26 at 1:30 p.m. at Silvertip golf course and on March 15 at 7 p.m.

More details can also be found on www.silvertipvillage.com. See story on page 10 for more on the gondola proposal.

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