Calgary

Sylvan Lake ready to 'reimagine' waterfront as it looks to boost tourism, economy

​The town of Sylvan Lake, Alta., west of Red Deer is planning a major redevelopment of its waterfront as it hopes to bring in more visitors and boost business in the town.

Businesses looking to Vancouver, Seattle and Calgary for inspiration

Sylvan Lake officials are working on plan that will guide one of the most significant changes in the town's history, making sure it stays attractive to both businesses and tourists. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The town of Sylvan Lake, Alta., west of Red Deer is planning a major redevelopment of its waterfront as it hopes to bring in more visitors and boost business in the town.

The Reimagine Sylvan plan will guide one of the most significant changes in the town's history, making sure it stays relevant and attractive to both businesses and tourists.

The mayor of Sylvan Lake, Sean McIntyre, says he wants to hear from every Sylvan Laker with their ideas for what the town should look like in the future. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"We really want the input of our residents on what it should look like," said Mayor Sean McIntyre. "We want every Sylvan Laker's idea, we want our whole community's input," he said

A big component in shaping the future of the town will be deciding what should be built on the site of the old Wild Rapids Water Park. It closed in 2016 after 34 years, leaving a vacant space in a prime location.

But they are big shoes to fill. The water park was Sylvan Lake's main attraction, playing a big part in making the town one of the most popular destinations for tourists, homeowners and developers.

After 34 years of operation, the Wild Rapids Water Park shut down at the end of the 2016 season. (Wild Rapids Water Park)

"The town has purchased the old water park land and that will be a really significant development right on the waterfront," said Joel Johannson with Sylvan Lake's Chamber of Commerce. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really capitalize on this large development that will be right on the water." ​

"Tourism is a huge component here and the enhanced waterfront will be great for drawing more people in," said Johannson. "You can feel in town that everyone's excited and looking to the future. We're primed and ready to do business here," he said.

Another big piece of the redevelopment plan is Sylvan Lake Provincial Park, which runs along part of the waterfront. The park was just transferred back to the town from the province, creating another opportunity.

"The transfer gives us another big opportunity to increase the quality of the experience, we plan on building trails, planting trees and fixing sod and then integrating it into the rest of our downtown," McIntyre said.

Despite all the buzz around the plan and what the future might look like, a drive around town quickly reveals lots of rundown, empty stores and under-used spaces.

The town wants to see more development and more new businesses, and that is already happening.

A micro-brewery and pub is one of the new businesses that sees a bright future in Sylvan Lake. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"If you go to Granville Island in Vancouver, or Seattle's waterfront area, there are artisans and shops, they are destinations, and that's what I would like to see here," said Bryan McHale, who is in the process of opening Undercurrent Brewing, a modern micro-brewery and pub overlooking the lake.

McHale is firmly onboard with the town's plan and wants to be part of the waterfront's future.

"Another good example is Inglewood in Calgary. It's grown this organic aspect where you get different stores and a cultural aspects within a retail area and that would really benefit somewhere like the waterfront," McHale added.

Business owner Kelly Hanes wants to see more retail along Sylvan lake's waterfront. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"Hopefully our little strip will encourage more development. There has to be more retail, clothing stores, cool barber shops. What's there right now is a little stagnant," said McHale.

"I'd like to see more gift stores," said Kelly Hanes, owner of Neighbours by the Lake Interiors.

"I'd like more walkable stores where people can make a day of it, just walk from store to store. There's a lot of restaurants and great places to eat but no really great places by the lakefront to shop," said Hanes.

Multiple public open houses and events are scheduled to take place throughout the spring months to continue to gather ideas and input, with a clearer picture of what the future of Sylvan Lake should look like being revealed sometime in the fall.

Right now, the town is also asking people to take part in an online survey via the town's website.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, using only an iPhone and mobile tech. His work is used by mobile journalism (mojo) trainers and educators around the world. Dan is focused on the city’s diverse northeast quadrant and sharing stories from under-reported communities. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at Dan.Mcgarvey@cbc.ca.

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