ST. PETER’S: With the municipality expected to announce its plans for tourism development in Richmond County within the coming days, municipal officials and tourism promotion groups are expressing optimism after a recent joint meeting on the subject.

A meeting on the municipality’s three-year-old tourism strategy took place on March 11 in Arichat, involving Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Michel Samson, Richmond Warden Brian Marchand, the county’s interim Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Maris Freimanis, and organizations representing the St. Peter’s and Isle Madame portions of the tourism initiative.

Following this meeting, members of the St. Peter’s Economic Development Organization (SPEDO) reported positive progress on the group’s Facebook page. The chair of SPEDO’s tourism committee, Sherry MacLeod, confirmed that the municipality has asked her group to seek potential cost-savings for such developments as the Canal Landing infrastructure currently slated to take shape near the St. Peter’s Canal National Historic Site, but noted that the municipality now appears ready to proceed with its initial tourism proposals.

“They seemed to be completely for tourism and saw it as a great source of economic development, and they said all the right words, so I hope they follow through,” MacLeod told The Reporter.

“I think there are certain areas, of course, that we can find cost-savings. But we’re actually still waiting for the county to give us the documents that they have for the tenders, so that we can pull them apart and do them again. We don’t have all the actual figures that they had for the estimates, originally.”

Both MacLeod and Freimanis confirmed the need for cost reductions in the wake of several tenders for tourism-related infrastructure coming in over budget in recent months, and each confirmed that Samson indicated that the province’s $2.2 million share of the strategy’s projected $6.6 million budget is ready to reach the county once a formal request from the municipality reaches the provincial government.

However, when addressing the issue last week, the interim CAO declared that the municipality has the right to proceed with tourism development with a strategy that does not require the $2.2 million figure confirmed by municipal council last spring and matched by the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).

Freimanis added that the municipality is meeting with ACOA officials to discuss the project’s price tag this week, with an update on the strategy’s fate anticipated at the next regular meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on March 27, in Arichat.

“The municipality would be challenged to match the $2.2 million – our financial condition is such that we need to be careful and prudent on our expenditures as we move forward,” Freimanis warned, while describing the March 11 meeting as “positive” and expressing hope that a cost-effective direction can be reached for tourism development in Richmond County.

“At this point in time, what we need to do is sit back and regroup, re-assess and realistically approach these tourism projects, and really look at what portions of that grand initiative are going to generate the best benefit.