City of Red Deer welcomes gondola proposal, but not all local businesses are on board 

An Edmonton company’s proposal to build a gondola in Red Deer has excited and disappointed local businesses.

Edmonton developer Prairie Sky Gondola announced plans this week to build a 350-metre urban ropeway in Red Deer, crossing the Red Deer River between the Capstone neighbourhood and Bower Ponds.

The project, privately funded with more than $25 million in investment, includes two stations and six cabins. Plans for the larger Capstone station feature a restaurant, coffee shop, gift shop, wine bar, event space and rooftop terraces.

The company plans to sign a non-binding agreement with the City of Red Deer this spring. 

“It’s really a piece of infrastructure that satisfies a utility need for the community,” said Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, Prairie Sky Gondola’s president and CEO.

In the company’s news release, Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said the project would highlight the community’s natural beauty. He also said it would create a tourist attraction that would benefit local businesses and inspire further development.

“It definitely will help us,” said Delores Coghill, manager of the Red Deer Cultural Heritage Society, which is near the proposed Bower Ponds station.

Lisa Mackey, marketing manager for craft brewery Troubled Monk, said the brewery is excited to have more company in the Capstone area and welcomes the tourism the gondola will bring.

The gondola would cross the Red Deer River between the Capstone and Bower Ponds areas. (Prairie Sky Gondola)

But not everyone is on board with the plan.

“We’re not excited about the gondola at all,” said Rebekah McDonald, who owns the health food store Purearth Organics, also in the Capstone area.

McDonald said a gondola might be a neat attraction for tourists, but people who live and work nearby have been advocating for a pedestrian bridge in the same location for years.

Residents can currently cross the river alongside cars via Taylor Drive, but the experience is not pleasant, she said.

“A lot of the staff and the people in the area that I’ve been talking to are disappointed that that bridge is no longer a part of the proposal for this area,” McDonald said.

Hansen-Carlson said it takes time to convince naysayers that gondola projects can benefit communities.

“The Indigenous engagement, the public engagement and how they intersect with the budgetary policies of the city is something we never rush,” he said.

How much would riders pay?

Hansen-Carlson said the Red Deer gondola would have dynamic pricing, meaning a local transportation pass holder would pay less per trip than an international tourist.

He said the company’s goal is aligning the ride cost with the city’s existing fares.

Roger Gardner, who consults on gondola projects as principal at Eco-Transit Technologies in Denver, Colo., said about half of the recreational gondola projects he examines are implemented, compared to five to 10 per cent of public transit ones.

He said the more a project depends on government funding, the less chance it has at success.

Fares for recreational gondola rides typically cost between $20 and $50 US, he said. 

What’s up with the Edmonton gondola?

Hansen-Carlson said the Red Deer gondola could open as early as 2025 — the same year the Edmonton gondola is expected to be ready.

The more complex Edmonton project involves 42 parcels of land, five stations and 80 cabins.

Hansen-Carlson said the company is nearly finished renegotiating real estate infrastructure payments with the city, which should go before city council in May or June.

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