Tumbler Ridge Museum Feasibility Study and Business Plan

The initial feasibility study / business plan for the proposed museum in Tumbler Ridge was recently completed by Lions Gate Consulting of Vancouver. Lions Gate Consulting was recommended by Community Futures Development Canada as a consulting company with extensive experience in north-eastern BC tourism studies. Prior to this, Mayor Caisley and Council had indicated that such a study was desirable for the District of Tumbler Ridge to have an adequate understanding of the project and its benefits to Tumbler Ridge. The majority of the funding for the study was provided by the provincial government.

The study uses the term ?Tumbler Ridge Museum? but indicates that in future a term such as ?Peace Region Museum of Natural History? will be used for what will be a regional museum of international standard. The full study is 160 pages long, and can be downloaded from the main page of the Museum Foundation?s website: www.tumblerridgemuseum.com The executive summary comprises the first three pages, and provides a quick summary of the major features in the study, and is reprinted here.

The Museum Foundation has submitted a 3 year budget proposal to the District of Tumbler Ridge requesting a continuation of existing funding levels for 2007-2009 (in 2006 $200 000 was provided). This proposal is currently under review by the District. In the near future the Museum Foundation will submit a proposal to the Northern Development Initiative Trust for further funding support.

Project Background

The 2000 discovery of a local dinosaur trackway by two Tumbler Ridge youths, and subsequently the discovery of B.C.?s first dinosaur bone site, was the impetus behind the formation of the Tumbler Ridge Museum Foundation (T.R.M.F.) in 2002. Subsequent fieldwork has confirmed the unique nature and significance of the palaeontological resource in the Tumbler Ridge area and Peace region.

The Development Concept

The ultimate goal of the T.R.M.F. is the development of a large-scale, ?purpose-built? 125,000 square foot, regional/provincial museum to be constructed in Tumbler Ridge by 2010, to coincide with the 2010 Olympics. The facility would be a world-class museum and visitor destination, showcasing and protecting the province?s expanding palaeontological resource.

The museum would be oriented around four themes: palaeontology, natural history, fossil fuels and human history.

T R.M.F. Achievements

The Foundation is currently progressing toward four main objectives leading up to the eventual development of the museum. These include, undertaking palaeontology field programs , establishing the Peace Region Palaeontology Research Centre, conducting educational and outreach programs, and developing galleries, exhibits and tours to promote and share the northeast?s palaeontological resources.

Exposure and interest to date has been exceptional via international (BBC, Discover Magazine, Discovery Channel, SETI radio), national (Vicky Gabereau Show, Canadian Geographic, the Beaver, Globe and Mail, CBC Radio) and provincial (Knowledge Network) media.

Close to $800,000 has been raised from all levels of government and the private sector to fund programs and initiatives. The Lieutenant Governor of B.C. is an Honorary Patron of the Foundation.

Resource Assessment

The palaeontological materials of northeast B.C. form a rich and diverse resource that confirms the region?s status as one of the world?s finest fossil areas. Recent discoveries in Tumbler Ridge are comparatively accessible and strategically located for further research and visitor interpretation.

Tumbler Ridge has the opportunity to take a leadership position for housing fossil discoveries in B.C., and addressing the gap that has seen northeast B.C.?s rich fossil resource removed elsewhere to some of the world?s great museums. This capacity does not now exist in B.C.

Destination Assessment

Tumbler Ridge has some challenges ahead in positioning itself as a visitor destination, including its relative remoteness and history as a community dependent on heavy industry. However, the buoyant economy and positive business climate suggest that now is the time to diversify the economic base and build on several strategic advantages that could create a unique and dynamic tourism destination. The museum would be a catalyst for drawing in new entrepreneurs and investments in visitor services, products and infrastructure, and vice versa, an expanding operator base will enhance the museum experience, making the region a true destination for visitors to northeast B.C.

Although northeast B.C. makes up for only a small portion of the provincial tourism industry, the travel trends of the region indicate a good match between existing and potential markets, and a showcase museum facility. Important trends include:

The main markets for the museum will be tourists and residents.

? In 2006, an estimated 770,000 overnight travellers came throughout northeast B.C. An? estimated 85% have expressed interest in visiting museums, heritage or historic sites. A large percentage are willing to drive over 50 kilometers to visit a place of interest.

? The regional population (including the Peace River Regional District and Grande Prairie County in Alberta) is more than 120,000.

?Travel markets in B.C. and northeast B.C. are projected to grow strongly over the next 20-year period at rates above overall national visitation. Similarly, the growth of museum enthusiasts will be above overall visitor growth. The regional population will grow strongly in the next 20 years.

?An increasing volume of visitors, and an advancing average age, will increase demand for activities that are not physically demanding, notably cultural and museum activities.

? Canadian and U.S. museum ?enthusiasts? (those travellers who have visited two or museum or heritage facilities in Canada in the last two years) have a very similar demographic profile to northeast B.C. visitors (slightly above average age, well educated, high income).

Many visitors to the region are considered ?dual-track? because they participate in more than one primary activity. Importantly, museum ?enthusiasts? have very high participation rates in outdoor activities and vice versa.

?Natural history and dinosaur museums in West Canada and the western United States, tend to be in close proximity to important field sites, and have developed museum ?clusters?. The planned development of the Pipestone Creek museum in Grande Prairie, far from being a competitive worry, will in fact enhance the region?s status as a palaeontology destination.

?Tumbler Ridge and area has an exceptional mix of natural and heritage resources that have excellent potential for further development but have yet to be turned into market-ready products and services that are matched and delivered to current visitors.

Market Assessment The Experience of Other Museums

The number of science and technology centres, and palaeontology museums, has expanded significantly over the last 30 years, primarily in response to visitor interest in science museums and the potential they have for engaging audiences in participatory and learning experiences. Their ability to engage youth and adult audiences is compelling.

Successful science and technology centres, and palaeontology museums, tend to exhibit a common set of characteristics. Showcase buildings and exhibits, strategic alliances with research and educational institutions, diversified revenues with public and private sector contributions, a strong partnership with local communities and businesses, sophisticated fund-raising practices, and the ability to leverage other regional attractions into overall destination marketing package allow these facilities to attract large volumes of visitors.

Market Potential

Built and operated as a showcase facility, and subscribing to best practices in marketing and operations, a museum could attract between 75,000 and 95,000 visitors annually.

Financial Assessment

The capital costs of the facility, as currently envisioned, are significant, at just under $50 million. The nature of museums, and the scope of the proposed facility, means that a facility supported solely by admissions revenue and private sector support, is not possible. That is, without substantial public sector support, this project is not feasible. The rationale for public support is that the facility, while a destination attraction, is fundamentally concerned with the stewardship of the province?s palaeontological resources.

Estimated admission revenues of more than $1 million annually would have to be matched with approximately $625,000 in government, private sector and endowments to achieve sustainability.

The total effect of construction and visitor spending is considerable in the short-term and the long-term. In the first year, over 667 jobs, employment income of over $28 million and government revenues of approximately $8.6 million are created, mainly due to construction activity. Over the long-term, between 33.9 and 43.6 jobs, $1 million to 1.3 million in employment income, and $309,000 to $399,000 in government revenue, annually, is generated.

A host of other positive impacts, from diversification of the economic base, to a new source of community pride and accomplishment, will be generated for communities across the region.