Tourism Kelowna CEO Lisanne Ballantyne sabres a bottle of sparking wine during the opening of the new $2.8 million visitor centre on Kelowna’s downtown lakefront Thursday. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

New Kelowna visitor centre opens

The controversial $2.8 million wood and glass building is located on the downtown lakefront

Tourism Kelowna’s new $2.8 million, downtown lakeshore visitor centre is now open.

In a ceremony held Thursday afternoon—that featured the sabring of bottles of sparkling wine to mark the occasion—the new single-storey wood and glass building was opened.

“Tourism Kelowna is proud and excited to open our new Kelowna Visitor Centre as an important new addition to our community,” said Thom Killingsworth, chairman of Tourism Kelowna’s board of directors.

“As a sought-after and growing destination for visitors, and an incredible place to call home, we look forward to serving our community and visitors who come from across the world. A strong visitor experience includes a well-positioned visitor information centre and innovative visitor experience strategy, which will keep visitors coming back to Kelowna, and continued growth of our local economy.”

He said Kelowna attracts about two million tourists each year who spend an estimated $337 million. The industry supports 12,000 jobs and the economic impact is $1.25 billion.

Related story: Work continuing on new Kelowna visitor centre

The new visitor centre, located between Kerry and Stuart Parks on the downtown lakeshore at the foot of Bernard Avenue, sits on a former parking lot that was once the landing point of the ferry that carried people across Okanagan Lake in the days before the former Okanagan Lake Floating Bridge was built.

According to Tourism Kelowna CEO Lisanne Ballantyne, an estimated 450,000 pedestrians walk by the location every year because sits alongside the popular downtown lakefront promenade that connects City Park and Waterfront Park.

She said her organization expects 100,000 people will walk through the centre’s doors in its first year of operation.

The visitor centre was built on time and on budget by contractor ANR Construction. It was designed by Kelowna’s Meiklejohn Architects.

The land around the centre, which still resembles a construction site, is being turned into an extension of Kerry Park by the City of Kelowna, and that work is expected to be complete by the end of July or early August, said the city’s Andrew Gibbs.

Part of that work will be to connect the two existing sections of the waterfront promenade, split by the former parking lot up until now.

Related story: Controversial waterfront visitors’ centre approved

The doors of the centre were opened to the public Thursday afternoon, with Mayor Colin Basran calling it a “long awaited and much talked about” building.

Opponents of the location criticized the city for allowing it to be built on the former parking lot because the land used to be zoned as park despite the fact it was never used as such. It had always been a parking lot.

During his turn at sabring a bottle of sparkling wine to mark the opening, Basran joked that he was more nervous doing that than he was in voting to approve the project following a packed, and at times raucous, public hearing on the project last year.

The centre—complete with five new public washrooms—will be open between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily during the summer months and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the rest of the year.

The administration offices of Tourism Kelowna will not be in the centre. Instead, they will remain at their current Abbott Street location.

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The inside of the new Kelowna Visitor Centre. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

The front of the Kelowna Visitor Centre faces onto Okanagan lake and features roll-up glass walls on to to lakeshore patio. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Mayor Colin Basran takes his turn sabring a bottle of sparkling wine to mark the opening of Kelowna’s new Visitor Centre Thursday. He said he was more nervous doing that than he was voting to approve the controversial building, which was opposed by some in the community because it its downtown lakefront location. —Image: Alistair Waters/Capital News.

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