Letter: Cost of visitor centre on Kelowna waterfront

The city has not provided a cost benefit analysis to explain why this piece of public land should be used by Tourism Kelowna.

To the editor:

On Nov. 2, Tourism Kelowna announced it had scaled back its visitor centre project, stating it would have “no cost to the City of Kelowna or our residents.”

My baloney meter went nuts. Contrary to Tourism Kelowna’s false claim, the project has a number of huge public costs that are being ignored.

First, the project uses valuable public waterfront parkland and open space. There is a direct public cost for the loss of use and for land replacement to meet future population growth. These costs are estimated at $4 million. To date, the city has not provided detailed justification and a cost benefit analysis to explain why this — or any other — piece of public land should be used by Tourism Kelowna to conduct its profit-making business activities.

Second, the project has direct and indirect public costs, including:

•    A $4-million concept level plan to upgrade Kerry Park includes servicing and developing Tourism Kelowna’s site. Detailed plans and costs will not disclosed until after council approves the Tourism Kelowna project

•    Undisclosed public amounts for project site environmental costs, including soil testing and remediation, fish habitat and water quality protection and upgrades to the shoreline retaining wall. This could cost $1 million

•    Undisclosed public subsidies, rents and grants given to Tourism Kelowna by the city over and above an annual $350,000 grant and an annual $3 million collected from the city’s hotel room tax

•    Undisclosed amounts for the public loss of sunlight and lake, mountain and water views blocked by the building

•    Undisclosed amounts for the public loss of use of open green space

•    Undisclosed amounts for the loss of an existing on-site public boat launch.

The public costs for the project are site-dependent and would not exist if the visitor centre were relocated to a proposed hotel and convention centre across the street from the park. The project site must move if Tourism Kelowna wants to remain credible and avoid having its $350,000 annual public grant rescinded.

Public accountability on this project simply does not exist. Despite supporting this project for years, council has never evaluated site options in detail and has never questioned, identified, disclosed, justified or addressed the project’s long-term public costs.

No wonder my baloney meter went nuts.

Richard Drinnan, Kelowna

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