Tourist centre going ahead

After nearly five hours of discussions and speeches, council voted 7-1 in favour of Tourism Kelowna's proposed waterfront tourist information centre.

Approval came despite an overwhelming show of non-support by the general public.

Correspondence to the city prior to Tuesday's public hearing ran 70 per cent against locating the information centre on the Queensway Jetty. And, while exactly half of the 50 people who spoke were in favour, most were involved in the tourist industry.

Most who spoke against were average residents.

And, while many were swayed to the need for a new location for the tourism centre, they were not swayed as to the best location.

"There are many spaces in buildings at the foot of Bernard," suggested one speaker. "Try that for a few years, and if that doesn't work, look at this again."

"We need this, but do we need this on the last piece of park land?" asked another. "We need a park devoid of structures."

Still another said he understands what Tourism Kelowna stands for, but thinks there are other options.

He added Tourism Kelowna is a non-profit tourism board that represents corporations, not people, before holding up a sign that read, "Take your corporate hands off our public lands."

And, while many were upset at the loss of waterfront space, Tourism Kelowna CEO Nancy Cameron said boardwalk around the tourist centre would be 15 metres on the lake side, double the boardwalk behind the Kelowna Yacht Club.

Those in favour of the location spoke of a changing tourist landscape, and a worldwide trend of moving info centres off highways and into the downtown core where the people are.

"Council shouldn't be shy to use a great public space for a great public purpose," said one.

"Kelowna is behind the times. We need a world class facility," stated another.

Council didn't need long to render a decision, and it took little time at all to see where the vote was heading.

Coun. Tracy Gray called the building "the missing link between City Park and Stuart Park."

In calling tourism the city's number two industry, she added, "I won't apologize for making decisions that allow opportunities for our number two industry, and for small business and entrepreneurs in our community,"

Coun. Luke Stack said, while many in opposition believe parks are for grass, trees and open space, and there's no place for buildings, he has a different view.

"In general , I actually believe parks are enhanced with buildings.

"I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but when I bring people to parks, I want them to have a washroom to use, I want them to be able do things, food, concessions. I want them to get the services they need."

Coun. Charlie Hodge was the lone voice against the rezoning.

"For me, I heard enough people that said this wasn't right for them. I think Tourism Kelowna is going to do a fabulous job with this and they do a fabulous job in our community," he said.

"I just don't believe this is necessarily the best spot for this."

Mayor Colin Basran concluded by saying tourism is nearly a $1 billion , year-round industry in Kelowna.

He said you don't promote a $1 billion industry with a kiosk and two summer students.

Tourism Kelowna still must complete design of the building and apply for a development permit before construction can start.

Tourism Kelowna president Daniel Bibby hopes to see the building open sometime next year.

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