Downtown visitor centre in the works for Kincardine

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News

By Barb McKay

 

Kincardine could see a downtown visitor information centre as early as next year.

 

Council discussed the need for a downtown tourist booth or information centre during its meeting last Wednesday. Clerk Donna MacDougall presented a report explaining the need to enhance tourism services in the downtown core, but stressed that a presence on Highway 21 with visitor information is essential. She recommended that the municipality keep with its original decision made in 2004 to build a new visitor centre at Highway 21 and Russell Street, but hold off until the site is developed with water and sewer services. There is currently $640,000 in the tourism reserve fund.

 

MacDougall suggested the downtown satellite location at the Arts Centre could be enhanced if funds are available in the 2014 budget. Currently, the municipality pays $1,500 for roughly 700 hours throughout the summer for the Bluewater Summer Playhouse to house brochures and assist visitors.

 

The idea of a downtown visitor information centre in Kincardine is not a new one, but local groups, primarily Team Kincardine, have had a different vision in mind. The team, made up of the BIA, Chamber of Commerce and Penetangore Regional Economic Development Corporation (PREDC), approached council last year with a proposal to transform a portion of the former Foodland building on Queen Street into a tourism and economic development centre.

 

The centre would house members of Team Kincardine to allow them to share resources; act as a satellite tourism office; accommodate municipal services, such as dog licenses and water and sewer bill payments; and meeting space and resources for organizations and small businesses. The plan also included public washrooms fronting onto Queen Street. The overall cost for the project, including the washrooms, was estimated at $135,000. The annual cost to rent the space would be $45,000.

 

The proposal received mixed reviews. Some council members embraced the idea as a way to further promote tourism and encourage groups with common interests to work more closely together. Other members questioned how the project would be paid for and who would be picking up the tab. There were also concerns that the location wasn’t appropriate for public washrooms; that they should be located closer to Victoria Park, where most of the tourism activities take place.

 

“I do appreciate the different points of view,” MacDougall said last week, “but it came down to the number of visitors at the current location on the highway that led to my (recommendation).”

 

According to municipal statistics, the visitor information centre on Highway 21 receives roughly 5,500 visitors per year. In her report, MacDougall noted that given the trend towards vacation planning via the Internet, the municipality should continue to focus on its online presence, as well.

 

Councillor Ken Craig said that with a consistently high volume of traffic at the highway location, a satellite office downtown would be a more appropriate option than locating the main visitor centre there.

 

He said that more businesses downtown should carry tourism brochures.

 

“I think every store you go into should be an information centre,” he said.

 

Councillor Jacqueline Faubert said Highway 21 is the best location for a dedicated visitor centre, but said the current space is not preferable. She said the visitor centre should be near other amenities, such as a café. Faubert added that a downtown site is also necessary, but should accommodate other tourism-related initiatives, such as the BIA’s downtown ambassador program.

 

Councillor Maureen Couture said she agreed with the staff recommendation to have two tourist information centre locations and said that some work needs to be done to the current visitor centre location, including the addition of Wi-Fi service.

 

Councillor Ron Coristine, who sat on the Cultural, Heritage, Arts and Tourism (CHAT) committee when the decision was made by council to dedicate funds to visitor information centre at Highway 21 and Russell Street, said he was disappointed with the recommendation to remain status quo on tourism services.

 

Mayor Larry Kraemer said he would like to see the primary visitor centre located downtown, with a satellite office on the highway. He said that in many communities that he has visited visitor centres are closely tied to the business community.

 

“I think it’s important that the core of this is in the core of the municipality,” Kraemer said, but added that it should not be a location for public washrooms.

 

Couture said she could support locating the visitor centre downtown as long as the municipality is willing to dedicate the resources, including staffing, to support it. Kraemer said the municipality could work with Team Kincardine to supply those resources.

 

Craig was quick to remind council that that was proposition that has already been heavily debated.

“We could rent some space at Foodland and we could work with the BIA and the Chamber and we could pay for it all,” he said. “I can’t help feeling like we’ve been here before.”

 

Council decided that the best course of action would be to have staff come back to a future council meeting with a recommendation of how to set up two visitor centre locations.