Kelowna council loves proposed new site for downtown tourist info centre

Kelowna city hall's plan for a new tourist information centre on a downtown waterfront,parking lot at the foot of Queensway, has won the unanimous support of council.

"It's all about location, location, location," said Coun. Maxine DeHart. "This is not a good location, it's the perfect location."

The new site, chosen after council heard loud and clear from the public that it did not want to see a larger building built in part of nearby City Park, is expected to house a low-rise building of about 5,000-square-feet.

While some in the community argued a highway location such as the one now being used in the Chamber of Commerce building on Harvey Avenue is better because it is more convenient to capture drive-by traffic, all on council Monday, as well as the chairman of Tourism Kelowna, said times have changed and "rubber-wheel" traffic is not as important for a visitor information centre anymore.

Stan Martindale said with the Internet and GPS now popular, the existing centre on Harvey Avenue is not the spot for maps and directions anymore.

He said now what's important is selling visitors on what there is to do here. And that, he added, can best be done in an area where visitors already are, namely Kelowna's downtown waterfront.

With council's approval in hand, city staff will now start looking at what the new building should look like, how much it will cost and what it should include. That work is estimated to cost $50,000, with the city picking up $40,000 and Tourism Kelonwa paying the rest.

The original plan called for a building more than twice the size to go in the corner of City Park, near the intersection of Abbott Street and Bernard Avenue. That building would have meant the removal of trees inthe park and Veendam Way, an area of the park that recognizes Kelowna's Dutch sister city Veendam. It is the area of the park that leads to the Kelowna cenotaph.

With the switch to a new location, city officials said Veendam Way will not be impacted by the planned redevelopment plan for the park.

And Coun. Colin Basran said he hopes now that the switch has been made, more people will look closer at other parts of the City Park plan becuase he feels it offers improvement to the popular downtown lakeshore park.

"There are some really cool parts of that plan that were overshadowed by the Tourism Kelowna's (building) project," he said.

The new visitor information centre site received ringing endorsements from all members of council on hand Monday—three were away—with Coun. Robert Hobson calling it a site that is getting what it requires, a building while also maintaining public access to the waterfront with a connection of the existing waterfront walkway. That walkway is already in place in front of Stuart Park and Waterfront Park to the north and Kerry Park and City Park to the south.

Coun. Gail Given noted a new centre will also not only help visitors but local business as well as tourists are steered to them through the centre.

One councillor, Luke Stack even reverse-paraphrased Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell when he described the new plan as "unpaving a parking lot to built a little bit of paradise."

As for council's response, Mayor Walter Gray said he's glad council waited to see what staff came back with.

"I think this goes to show council was listening (when the public spoke out against the original City Park location)," said Gray.

"We were listing but we did not have an answer then. Now we do,"

He said suggestion for the new site came from an unidentified city staffer, who suggested it his or her manager at City Hall.

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