Work starts on controversial Kelowna visitor centre site

The $2.8 million waterfront building at the foot of Queensway is slated for completion next summer

Construction is finally underway on Kelowna’s controversial waterfront visitor centre.

With a building permit issued by the city earlier this week, work to prepare the site for the 3,000-square-foot building at the foot of Queensway in downtown Kelowna is now underway.

The $2.8 million building, which will feature a curved metal roof and extensive use of glass, will be located on what has been a parking lot for several years.

“We’re excited about a new visitor centre for Kelowna that will welcome visitors and connect residents with information on the many events and attractions in our community,” says Tourism Kelowna on its website.

“Our current visitor centre location (located on Harvey Avenue) is outdated and visits to that location are rapidly declining, down by about half in just four years. This represents a lost economic opportunity for Kelowna.”

The centre is expected to be up and running by next summer.

Related story: Scaled back plan for new Kelowna visitor centre unveiled

The choice of location for the centre was a controversial one, with opponents claiming the city is giving up valuable land to a commercial interest, land that could be used for waterfront park.

But Tourism Kelowna, which promotes the city in a bid to attract visitors, argues a new location for its visitor centre is needed and the move to locate it downtown to take advantage of pedestrian traffic is one that follows the lead of other similar centres across North America.

The choice of the site has been the subject of protests by opponents and a heated and lengthy public hearing earlier this year at Kelowna city hall.

Related story: City says visitor centre won’t cost taxpayers millions

Meanwhile, it’s unclear if the Office of the B.C.’s Ombudsperson is investigating claims by one of the centre’s most vocal opponents concerning the public hearing that approved the rezoning of the site for the new visitor centre.

Diane Varga complained to the Ombudsperson about the assigned zoning of the property, known as the Queensway Jetty, and about how information was presented to the public in relation to the public hearing.

She claims an investigator was assigned and an investigation is underway.

But the Ombudsperson’s office in Victoria has refused to confirm or deny any investigation is underway and the City of Kelowna says it has not been contacted by the Ombudsperson’s office.

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