Maybe it's because of COVID-19, and people wanting to make a life change/realize a dream; or maybe because it's a fun, wild idea (and good business opportunity) but whatever the reason, the asking price of $1.25 million for a frontier village in Alberta's foothills is garnering a lot of interest.
It's easy to see why Em-Te Town has caught people's attention. Sitting on 64 acres just near Alder Flats, (halfway down Highway 22 between Drayton Valley and Rocky Mountain House), the gathering of weathered wood buildings (including a saloon and cafe) looks like it's only missing a few tumbling tumbleweeds, some horses and a Clint Eastwood-style shootout to complete the picture. Maybe that's why it's become a sought-after spot for western-themed wedding photos, receptions and family reunions, along with corporate retreats and temporary digs for those wanting to hunt or fish on the neighbouring crown land and in the serene creek.
It's what drew Nisku businessman Rex Austin to the property about a dozen years ago. Owner of a trucking company for over 30 years, Austin was hunting in the area when he came upon the resort, a passion project built in 1980 by Leonard Mohr. When it came up for sale, Austin said he thought it'd be a nice sideline--one that became a lot more.
"There wasn't much here when we bought it in 2008--no kitchen and not much activity. But over 10 years, we upgraded the infrastructure and built a banquet hall too," said Austin. "With the RV campground, cabins, motel, saloon and restaurant, it's a full-service resort. Groups love it because you can come for an event and stay over--no one needs to drive home afterwards."
Austin said that after a decade of work and growing word-of-mouth interest in Em-Te Town, its success ended up being too much for him to juggle with his other job. "The resort needs full-time attention, and running two businesses was taking a lot out of me. I don't have kids to pass it along to either," he said.
"It's basically a tourist attraction with a twist: it's event-focused, but also a great RV/camping spot on a creek in the middle of nowhere. A lot of people and groups want a chance at owning it," said Re/Max agent Darin Baxandall. "We've almost sold the place five or six times this last year--groups, event planners, other campsite owners, people looking for an early retirement project or to have a family business--but the banks aren't making it easy.
"It's a seasonal/recreational business in a rural area, there's a recession, and it's COVID, so banks have to do their due diligence. You need a lot of capital up-front, and that counts a lot of people out. But we've had a surge of interest in recent weeks."
Austin said he thinks because of COVID-19, more people are looking to escape city life for the rural experience--to go where the pace is slower, with fewer people about. And he said with the pandemic-caused year of pent-up demand for postponed weddings, he expects business will surge when the village and campground re-opens.
"People have been cooped up at home and want to get out and travel within the province too," said Austin. "I hope it'll be a labour of love for someone else too--it's horse country here, near the cowboy trail--serene, relaxing and with easy access to Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, Austin said. "If you see it, you'll know why it was easy to buy, but hard to sell."