Council endorses tourist site

Kelowna City Council gave a ringing endorsement of a waterfront site at the foot of Queensway as the location for a new Tourism Kelowna Visitor Centre.

The site was put forth as an alternative to a tourist centre within the planned re-design of City Park which was panned negatively by residents.

The Queensway location has also come under some criticism with many believing the former McDonald's site on the highway at the entrance to the city would make more sense.

While not favouring a specific location, a Castanet poll responded to by 692 people showed 468 (67.63%) against the Queensway location.

However, Tourism Kelowna Chairman, Stan Martindale, indicated a highway location anywhere is not viable anymore.

Martindale told council Monday Tourism Kelowna requirements have dramatically changed over the past few years.

"Having a highway access is no longer a requirement and is becoming less and less desirable as time goes on," says Martindale.

"Everyone has a GPS on their phone, their tablet, built into their car. People aren't coming into the centre looking for maps and directions - that requirement is going away."

Martindale says what Tourism Kelowna needs to do is do a sales job on tourists when they are in the city.

He says the best way to do that is from a venue where the people are.

"This Queensway option will be a fantastic opportunity," he says.

Councillor Colin Basran says Kelowna would just be following the lead of other major centres.

"It's pretty clear the role of visitor information centres is changing and that rubber and tire traffic interactions are clearly declining," says Basran.

"I know there is talk that other communities in the province are closing their highway centered centres and moving them to downtown populated areas. The new centre needs to be where the people are because I know anytime I visit a new city I want to go downtown...typically that's where the action is."

Basran says he believes the building can be sensitively integrated into the waterfront area.

Mayor Walter Gray pointed to Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler who have all relocated their tourist centres into the downtown core.

Basran also wanted to dispel the McDonald's site as a viable option once and for all.

"I just want to say that, one we don't own that property and second of all, if highway traffic is declining at visitor info centres it wouldn't be forward thinking to then build a brand new centre on the highway," says Basran.

"I want to say the McDonald's site would not be the forward thinking site this one would be."

Councillor Robert Hobson also applauded the Queensway site calling it a much better option that City Park.

"Thank goodness we found a better place," stated Hobson.

"I think it's a win for the park, it's a win for the Veendam Walk, it's a win for the gardens and the cenotaph in the park. It really, I think, will preserve the park as the green space it was intended to be."

Speaking to the Queensway location, Hobson stated a building would not cut off access to the waterfront as is being feared.

"There will still be public boardwalk access along the water which was always anticipated through Kerry Park to connect City Park with Stuart Park," says Hobson.

"This facility will be completely accessible to people - it's not going to cut people off from the water. And, it's going to replace a piece of parking lot. I've never thought the waterfront was a good place for a parking lot."

Hobson reminded people the city's plan already shows a building in that area.

"It's not as if we are tearing out roses and putting in asphalt. In fact, we are putting a building where a building was intended to be."

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