Now that Banffites have had the opportunity to review plans for an intercept parking project at the train station, its proponents hope everyone will be willing to get on board.
On Thursday (Jan. 11), an open house was held at the train station, allowing members of the public to view artist renderings for the layout of car and RV parking, landscaping, proposed access points and location of a housing component.
The project, as currently proposed, would see 650 to 900 free parking spots created on the east side of the train station (gravel surface originally), depending on the number dedicated to larger buses and RVs. The west side of the train station will feature a commercial aspect, with heritage buildings like the icehouse and others, with the main access off Norquay Road.
Up next for the project will be a presentation to Banff’s municipal planning commission (MPC), which will include possible secondary access points off Cougar and Moose Streets.
The main access off Norquay, said Liricon Capital managing partner Jan Waterous (with husband Adam), would handle about 99 per cent of the traffic, but secondary access may be necessary for specials events and emergency vehicles.
“And that may potentially have a gate, so not be a public access,” she said. “It would be gated and available for special use only.”
After hearing from some members of the public, Waterous said, “I think most people are enthusiastic. We had our initial unveiling in April and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of disagreement. People seem to see a need for this and are enthusiastic about changing the way that people move through the town.
“There seems to be consensus on that, but having said that, when you offer a cure for cancer that tastes like chocolate and costs a dollar, some people still won’t like it. But my view on that is just that it’s change and I think when they learn and see what we envision, and with Parks Canada support and Town support, they will see it as something that’s a real game changer.
“That’s how Adam and I got into this. We saw it as a project that could really change the way people experience the national park. That’s where it all started.”
In the past, said Waterous, two-thirds of the land now proposed for parking was a siding for railway cars. For that reason, much of the land was cleared of trees. “Really, it always was a parking lot of a sort.
“There are some trees we’ll have to take down, so it’s not a perfect solution, but you have to look at the broader environmental impact of getting cars off the road and people on foot or on one of the many shuttles the Town and Parks have.”
With plans now in place and on paper, said Waterous, the next step is to appear before the MPC. “It’s part of the process where people will have the opportunity to speak and from there, we’ll see.
“We hope it goes forward; if it doesn’t, we tried.
“This used to be the centre of town, so what our vision is is to bring it back to what it was. One of the visions we have for this train station is to take the west (current) lot and make it an historic village.
“So, take structures like the historic icehouse and have it re-purposed in a way that supports train travel. Our hope there is to create a town square where people can come, and gather, and it can be a meeting place. It could be a restaurant where people could wait for a train, it could be a ticketing area, there could be more washrooms.”
Currently, the train station has limited amenities, but the Waterous’s are optimistic about the return of passenger rail, which would mean more services on site.
“Our hope is that the parking lot would be the first step in a broader vision of changing how people actually move through the town.”
More services and structures on the west side of the station would be part of the commercial aspect the Waterous’s are looking at. “We’re not in philanthropy. The parking lot isn’t something we envision making a dollar off, but we would make money off the commercial side. It is a business too and these buildings (on the west side) we see as money making ventures.
“Some might be just public facilities, but for the most part we see making money over here. Right now, the train station is something you drive by. There’s really no reason for most people to stop, so by creating this parking, very honestly, you’re getting people to come to our station.
“We’ve always been very up front about that and we hold our heads high with that. That is something that we see as works for everyone.”
In the future, in particular should the Town of Banff adopt paid parking, the Waterous’s feel free parking at the train station would be even more popular by comparison, and heavily used. The free parking, the Waterous’s hope, would be an incentive to spend a few extra minutes on foot to get to the downtown core, or take a shuttle.
“I think when people see it, touch it, feel it; when they see that it’s a real structure, and that cars are in there, they’ll say, ‘OK, let’s talk about paid parking again.’ That’s my hope and I think as someone who’s lived here for over 20 years, there have been lots of ideas tossed around and I think all of us as residents of Banff want to see it to believe it.”