A first-of-its kind $100-million multipurpose complex in the hamlet of Bragg Creek is being welcomed with opened arms after receiving the long-awaited go-ahead to move ahead.
The developer behind Gateway Village received unanimous approval from Rocky View County earlier this spring to move forward on a 12.6-acre complex that is expected to include a boutique hotel, restaurant, shops, an amphitheatre and much-needed permanent living options.
“It was a pretty easy decision,” says Rocky View County Reeve Dan Henn of the unanimous approval. “It has been met with a lot of support from the community, which was a big factor in approval from council. It’s going to be a huge asset for not just the county, but all of southern Alberta.”
Leading the project is Dick Koetsier, who after being raised within an oil and gas background, transitioned into real estate development around 2011. With some previous experience speculating on property, he started purchasing land in Bragg Creek around 2005 – later adding a number of adjacent parcels of land to complement future development.
“It’s like building a house on steroids,” Koetsier says of constructing Gateway Village, which was in the planning phase for more than two years before receiving land-use approval by Rocky View County. “It’s all about trying to figure out how to mesh it in with the surrounding community.
“I really want to make sure that this is going to be a winner and something we can all be proud of.”
Gateway Village was a vision Koetsier said started when he first stepped onto the property more than a decade and a half ago.
“My first thought was, this is the perfect place for a hotel because there’s not a lot of options for overnight accommodations, plus its ground zero in Bragg Creek, located right along the river,” says Koetsier, who moved to live in the area full-time about eight years ago.
“But as I’ve gotten to know the community, it’s became obvious that there’s a real housing deficiency, as well. Real estate is very expensive here and there’s really no place for rent in Bragg Creek. So I started thinking we also needed some more affordable and attainable housing in the area – for both the workforce, as well as our aging population – combined with parks, greenspaces and additional commercial opportunities.”
Gateway Village will be situated along the Elbow River just west of the current shopping centre in Bragg Creek. The land, which has been owned by Koetsier for more than a decade, was ground zero for much of the destruction that happened during the catastrophic floods in 2013. In fact, the house on the property was swept away, leading to the memorable image of it being carried downstream into the Balsam Avenue bridge.
Koetsier has since collaborated with county and province to enable the construction of the dyke on a portion of lands acquired from them fronting the Elbow River to provide flood protection for the hamlet in the future. Gateway Village itself lands fall outside the floodway.
One of the first priorities once construction begins will be reviving the legendary Steak Pit Restaurant, which was demolished following the floods.
“The Steak Pit was a special piece of our community. There was so much history in that building,” says Koetsier. “So we’ve decided to build it from the ground up in a new, ideal location and recreate the same feel of that original location.”
The restaurant will be part of a larger commercial village off Balsam Avenue that is part of the development’s first phase. The village will consist of 2,500 square metres of commercial development that, in addition to the Steak Pit restaurant, will integrate the existing Old West Mall, which will be refreshed to include a mix of commercial and residential rental units.
Running through the commercial village is River Square, a pedestrian-focused connector and vehicular entrance off the south side of Balsam Avenue. The square will direct traffic to onsite parking and including pathways from the existing shopping areas, include access to attractions as the lodge, amphitheatre and the Steak Pit.
Traffic pattern management was, in fact, a key message that came out of the public consultations that date as far back as 2014, says Koetsier.
“Since the very beginning, there’s been a lot of enthusiasm to get this built. Most of the concerns centred around how we would handle all these extra people that we’re bringing to the hamlet,” noting the main throughway in Gateway will connect Balsam Avenue to River Drive South and continue south to connect with White Avenue in the future.
Additional concerns centered around issues such as stormwater and wastewater management and “the delicate balance of growing and prospering while maintaining what we already have,” says Kathleen Burk, president of the Bragg Creek and Area Chamber of Commerce and a local realtor.
“In all these cases, the developer has really stepped up and openly and has continually asked for community engagement from a very deeply caring and personal level,” says Burk. “From a business perspective, I couldn’t be more supportive of it.”
Phase 3, meanwhile, will include construction of Wakesiah Lodge, a four-storey, 120-room hotel that will include a conference centre, health and wellness centre and spa.
The lodge is anticipated to be built in two phases: the first phase will consist of the ground-floor lobby, restaurant and 60 guest rooms which will make up the north wing. The subsequent 60 guest rooms, conference centre and leisure amenities will be built the second phase.
The name Wakesiah pays homage to the original log home built by Ida May White in 1930 on what is now White Avenue. The cabin was the first to offer overnight accommodations to campers in the Bragg Creek area.
A residential village consisting of 140 units will also be part of the development’s third phase. The units will include a collection of grade-oriented townhouse, as well as three- and four-storey apartments and condominium units that local officials say will provide both young empty-nesters and families as well as senior residents the aforementioned option to live within the hamlet.
“With entry housing prices around $750,000, there are a lot of people who can’t afford to live here,” says Burk. “That includes, among other segments, our aging population and the local workforce. So there’s just so much joy that goes along with this project. It’s just so incredibly important.”
That sentiment is echoed by Henn, noting additional housing options comes at a key time in supporting sustainable growth in Bragg Creek.
“It’s clear that this is being built for regular people who want to stay there or work there,” he says. “A project like this has been needed in Bragg Creek for a long time. The hamlet is a great tourist destination and a great place to live, but there just haven’t been a lot of options to date.
“Having this project will lead to more good development.”
Koetsier says Gateway Developments engaged with MTA Architectural in the overall design because of the firm’s extensive experience designing similar projects in mountain communities such as Canmore, Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise.
After going through detailed engineering, the next step will be servicing the site with sewer and water – including submitting development permits by the end of 2021.
Koetsier expects shovels to be in the ground for some foundational work by summer 2022.