Kelowna city council has approved Tourism Kelowna’s controversial plan to build a new visitors’ centres on the city’s downtown waterfront.
Following a five-hour public hearing at which 44 speakers expressed both support and opposition to the plan to build the new centre at the foot of Queensway on what is bing called the Queensway Jetty, council voted 7-1 to approve rezoning the land to allow the facility.
But the proposal has its opponents.
Based on applause for speakers who spoke out against using the site at Tuesday at night’ public hearing, it was clear many on hand were opposed. Half the speakers who addressed council said they were against using land zoned as park for the centre opposed and 201 of the nearly 300 letters council received prior to the public hearing were against the plan. In recent days the media has been filled with expressions of opposition to putting the 3,300-square foot centre on the site.
While the land is currently zoned as park—even though it has never been used as such and currently sits as a parking lot—opponents argued the city should not give up valuable waterfront parkland for a what many characterized as a “commercial” building.
While the visitors’ centre will be built and operated by Tourism Kelowna, it will sit on what will eventually become part of an enlarged and improved Kerry Park.
And according to most on council, in their opinion, the visitors’ centre will enhance the park, not detract from it.
“I actually believe parks are enhanced by buildings,” said Coun. Luke Stack, saying they can add add amenities for the public such as washrooms, food concessions and other services.
Five other councillors—Gail Given, Tracy Gray, Brad Seiben, Mohini Singh and Ryan Donn— and Mayor Colin Basran joined Stack in supporting the rezoning. Only Coun. Charlie Hodge voted against it.
Hodge said he was did so because he had heard from too many people who oppose it and he questioned having a tourist centre that did not offer any parking.
He praised Tourism Kelowna for its plan but said its clear many in the community do not want it on what many consider to be waterfront park land.
Tourism Kelowna says the centre will be pedestrian-focused facility and will be in the ideal spot to attract visitors who are already in the city, walking along the most popular area in Kelowna— the downtown lakeshore— and who want to know more about the area.
Tourism Kelowna’s Nancy Cameron told council the days of focusing visitors’ centres on the automobile are over. As a result, her organization wants to move the existing tourist information centre off Highway 97 and put it where the people are downtown.
She said 78 per cent of visitors’ centres in North America have moved into downtown locations.
But opponents voiced their concerns at the public hearing, saying a new centre may be needed but the location was the wrong. Many urged Tourism Kelowna to put it somewhere else in the downtown core, such as on nearby Bernard Avenue.
One man even suggested finding a location on Bernard, trying it for a year and if that failed then reconsider the Queensway site.
But in the end, council was not sway by the arguments of opponents.
Mayor Colin Basran said tourism is approaching a $1 billion industry here and “you don’t run a billion industry with a kiosk and a couple of summer students,” he said.
Daniel Bibby, president of Tourism Kelowna, said he was pleased with council’s decision but said there is more work to be done before construction can begin on the slope-roofed, one-storey glass building with a mezzanine. He said he expects it to open some time in 2018.
The Tourism Kelowna plan is heavily backed by operators of local businesses, both large and small, and say it will help help them.