Scaled back plan for new Kelowna visitor centre unveiled

Tourism Kelowna says it listened to the public and moved it out of the Simpson covenant lands and removed the planned office space.

An artist's rendition of the new Tourism Kelowna visitor centre on the downtown Kelonwa lakeshore.

Tourism Kelowna has a new vision for a waterfront Visitor Centre they’re hoping better meets the city’s needs.

At a Tuesday morning press conference, a design of a significantly smaller facility on the Queensway Jetty than what was pitched last spring was unveiled. It’s headed to Kelowna City Council in the weeks ahead.

“We listened to the people of Kelowna and have made improvements to our plan,” said Tourism Kelowna chairperson Daniel Bibby.

As the public consultation got underway in March a couple points of friction continually came to the fore and the new design attempts to address them.

“The public wasn’t crazy about offices being located (at the site),” said Bibby.

As a response to that concern Tourism Kelowna staff will rent space at the Prestige Building, which is a block away from the Queensway building. Removal of the office component has allowed the building to be reduced in size by 40 per cent, leaving it 3,000 square feet.

The other most notable community concern was with the perceived contravention of the Simpson Covenant.

In the 1940s Stanley Simpson sold several acres of prime land to the City of Kelowna at a reduced price, with a series of conditions that were upheld in a 2008 court challenge. The deal stipulates that the properties are only to be used for municipal purposes, not commercial or industrial ones.

A portion of original tourism building, which had office and retail space, was set over Simpson covenant land and Stanley Simpson’s daughter Sharron, along with others, took issue with that.

“As you may be aware, the Supreme Court of BC ruled that there was to be no commercial or industrial activity within the boundaries of the Covenant,” Simpson said, in a letter to the Capital News, penned in April.

“Whether the site of your retail outlet is on ‘this’ two feet or ‘that’ two feet is irrelevant—it’s under the roof and within the building envelope that does encroach on these restricted-use lands…we all own and all want to be able to freely access and use this precious piece of land. If you take it over, then it is lost, forever, to the rest of us.

The new building plan backs into the Simpson land, but doesn’t encroach on it and Bibby believes that will address that issue. Bibby also stressed that the new building will be at the centre of a plaza that is expected to better connect Kerry and Stuart Park increasing, not reducing, public access.

“The Visitor Centre was never planned for the water’s edge,” he said. “It’s 15 metres away from the water.”

By comparison, the Kelowna Yacht Club is only seven metres back from the water’s edge.

If a growing number of tourism studies are right, the Visitor Centre will also bring a lot more foot-traffic to the waterfront and area businesses reliant on tourism dollars.

Nancy Cameron, Tourism Kelowna CEO, said an estimated 100,000 people will walk through the Visitor Centre annually, compared to the 20,000 that go to the highway centre —three years ago that centre had 55,000 visitors annually. That has to do with changes in the way people travel.

“People book an accommodation ahead of time, throw it into the GPS, settle into the accommodation and then they go explore,” she said. “They tend to gravitate toward where the people are.”

That’s where, she said, visitor centres should now come in.

They are a place where people can verify their research and expand their knowledge of an area and have new interests piqued.

Perhaps most importantly, they are a place for visitors to speak with locals, which is essentially one of the main drivers for travelling. “People-to-people contact us still important in the travel world,” she said, explaining that travellers are looking for cultural experience with a personal touch.

And just as the centre is imporant to tourists, tourism is important to Kelowna. It brings in an annual 1.5 million visitors a year.

The industry has created 7,100 jobs and $1.76 million in direct wages. Perhaps most importantly, the industry brings $100 million in tax revenues to the region.

The constrction costs of the visitor centre will also from $3.5 million to $2.8 million, all of which will be paid by Tourism Kelowna, which will also pay to lease the land from the city.To learn more, they will be holding a Nov. 9 public consultation at the Queensway Jetty.

story text created on Tuesday 11/1/2016 at 12:33:19 pm by Kathy Michaels


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