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Proposed development plan would promote Fort Macleod as arts community

Fort Macleod is being urged to become an arts community.
A report submitted to town council last week proposed creation of small retail shops, artists’ studios, and public spaces downtown this year.
The report also urges property owners on Main Street to improve the look of the back of their buildings that face the one-ways.
Economic development manager Virginia Wishart and heritage consultant Bill Kells prepared the report designed to shape Fort Macleod’s transformation.
Part of that transformation includes an application for provincial funding similar to the 1980s Main Street Program.
Kells attended council’s committee of the whole meeting April 19 in council chambers to present the downtown enhancement proposal.
The proposal is intended to build on the work of the Main Street program which in the 1980s poured $1.98-million into the refurbishment of Fort Macleod’s historic buildings.
Kells and Wishart pointed out in the proposal that some heritage buildings were not refurbished, and that facades of some buildings that were restored in the 1980s are now showing signs of wear.
At a meeting a year ago with local officials and Alberta Culture staff, it was recommended Fort Macleod apply to the province for funding comparable to that provided by the Main Street Program in the 1980s.
Kells told council there is agreement in principle to make such a funding application with the Old Strathcona Foundation.
Fort Macleod and Old Strathcona have the only provincial historic areas in Alberta.
“This joint proposal for major funding would address concerns relating to restoration and the preservation of the built heritage resources within both provincial historic areas,” Kells read from the proposal.
“It would also allow us to undertake enhancement and beautification initiatives throughout that area, to support its rich heritage and character, and make it ever-more appealing and enjoyable for both visitors and residents alike.”
The proposal from Wishart and Kells notes the opening of the Fort Macleod Arts Building by Allied Arts has moved the town toward becoming an arts community.
That move is supported by the opening of five antique stores, a clothing store, flower and speciality gift shops, as well as the vendor boutique mall in Cafe Orange.
“In speaking with many members of the downtown business community there appears to be broad support for moving in that direction,” Kells said.
Wishart and Kells maintain that what is happening in Fort Macleod is similar to Laconer, Wash. and Big Fort, Mont. — two established arts communities.
“It became very apparent at the recent National Trust conference in Calgary that Fort Macleod lends itself very well, and in a multitude of ways, to creating those experiential, engaging opportunities by diversifying its economic base in the downtown commercial sector and intensifying its focus on an arts and cultural based product mix,” Kells read.
That includes retail outlets, artist studios and galleries, art courses and workshops and other hands-on experiences.
“In a community so rich in heritage resources, this is a bold new approach,” Kells read from the report. “In Fort Macleod we have focused almost primarily on our rich (Mounted Police) history, which is indeed worthy of celebration.”
“Although it is a draw for a segment of the population, it has somewhat overshadowed the rest of what is a rich and diverse heritage, both tangible and intangible dating back over 8,000 years.”
“We must find new ways to bring arts, culture and our rich heritage to life throughout our community in order to create a more engaging and entertaining experience for visitors but, more importantly, to improve the quality of life for residents.”
The proposal recommends Fort Macleod adopt built heritage management and downtown development plans.
The downtown development plan involves an application for major funding from Alberta Culture, which would be used to fund a built heritage co-ordinator position.
The money would also help pay for restoration of buildings, an arts and cultural program, activities to transform downtown into “a thriving and vibrant artists and artisan friendly business community.”
The money would also help Fort Macleod become a “learning center” where courses, workshops and lectures will be staged.
“As it was at the outset of the Main Street Program in the ’80s, this initiative needs to be a broad-based community initiative with extensive community-wide stakeholder involvement and support in order to succeed.”
For 2016 the proposal recommends addressing the backs of buildings in the provincial historic area, as well as paving and landscaping parking lots on both sides of Main Street.
Further, council was encouraged to create public art and community spaces.
“Creating pocket parks and encouraging public art on town-owned properties would help lead the way in this area,” Kells read. “The empty lot beside The Macleod Gazette is a prime location for such a green space and should be purchased by the town for a future community gathering space.”
Creation of small retail spaces like those in Urban Core was also proposed.
“It may appear to be a very ambitious plan but it involves a number of town departments, community organizations, businesses and individuals working together with a common vision to accomplish it,” the proposal concluded.
Town of Fort Macleod chief administrative officer Sue Keenan pointed out council has already approved its capital budget for 2016, and is well into setting its operating budget.
“We’re definitely looking at the 2017 capital budget,” Keenan said. “It cannot happen this year.”
Keenan supported development of a downtown enhancement plan, but said it cannot happen immediately
“In terms of the Town of Fort Macleod to try and do all of this on our own is cost prohibitive,” Keenan said. “It will be nice to have it all, but we can’t afford it all.”
Mayor Rene Gendre suggested some of the work could be done this year.
Council accepted the report for information.