Kelowna’s waterfront may look like just another serene slice of the Okanagan experience, but some people who run businesses in the area say appearances can be deceiving.
“It used to run really good, but a few years ago it became a disaster,” said Carol Mayzes, a former boat owner who once moored her ship along the stretch that spans the distance between The Sails sculpture and the Fintry Queen.
As cruise operators jockeyed for customers in a series of tables set out in front of their ships, fights erupted.
And now, Mayzes said she’s convinced it’s only going to get worse due to a recent decision by city council.
The city awarded a two-year contract Monday for the Fintry Queen’s ticket booth to Kelowna todo.com—a website and visitor information/ticket sales kiosk.
That means the company will now get prime waterfront real estate to sell tickets for everything from boat rides to events that happen throughout the city.
All boats along the waterfront are eligible to have their cruises profiled at the kiosk, but few are willing to go that route as KelownaToDo.com belongs to fellow cruise operator JC Rathwell, with whom some of them have had past conflicts.
“I’m horrified,” Mayzes said after the meeting where the contract was awarded.
She was among five other boat owners who were in attendance and waited to speak against the city’s decision.
Mayzes said that the Request for Proposals process was flawed and, if nothing else, the city, as the boat owners’ landlord, should have been more judicious in their decision and been more wary of any potential conflict of interest.
Awarding a contract to a cruise operator was a direction that Coun. Michele Rule also expressed frustration with.
She noted that the kiosk business model, which has yet to be put into effect, was supposed to provide a one-stop shop for those with tourism interests, arguing that recruiting someone with a vested interest complicated the matter.
Especially, she explained, because that part of the waterfront is rife with controversy.
Sometimes, she said, tables have been moved into the walkway, and she’s heard “arguments with people at the tables.”
Mayor Sharon Shepherd added that she too would have liked the city to have awarded the contract to a party that didn’t have a vested interest.
Couns. Graeme James, Luke Stack, Robert Hobson, Angela Reid, and Kevin Craig, on the other hand, all spoke in favour of the process and the results.
“It would be nice if another company came forward, but no one did,” said Craig. “Let’s respect the bidding process.”
Hobson pointed out that it made perfect sense that a boat owner would throw in their hat, and that he was pleased the derelict Fintry Queen would be put to some use this year.
As for the man at the centre of the controversy, JC Rathwell said he’s just happy to get to business and isn’t anticipating any further conflict, noting that he’s extended an olive branch to other boat owners.
“The vessels at the commercial passenger ship wharf have all been approached by KelownaToDo.com’s concierge to become a member among many local attractions: water sports, parasailing, golf, wine tours, scooters, Harley rentals just to name a few,” he said.
“KelownaToDo.com has had a very exciting, positive response from all attractions and local businesses in Kelowna.
“Since we have opened the boutique we have had literally hundreds of locals walking by the kiosk and commenting how wonderful, exciting, what a great idea (it is) to make use of the space.
“We are proud to represent Kelowna and the tourism industry.”
Rathwell pointed out that the commercial passenger ship wharf membership is a very small percentage of what the new company will offer, and that he thinks the controversy around getting the contract is “irrelevant.”
“It is unfortunate that the vessels cannot see the potential of the tourists and locals being reached,” Rathwell said.
“This fabricated controversy has cost all parties time and money, it is time for them to stop the complaining and operate their own business in a professional manner.”