By Barb McKay
The municipality is looking at moving its tourism staff downtown to temporarily share space with Team Kincardine while renovations are completed on the Arts Centre.
While Kincardine council made no formal decisions regarding a permanent downtown visitor information centre during its meeting last Wednesday, there was a lengthy debate about how renovations to the Arts Centre should be carried out and if the facility would be an appropriate location for visitor information and tourism services.
By the end of the meeting council had deferred making any decisions until the Feb. 19 meeting, but directed staff to look at options to relocate tourism staff downtown where they could potentially share space with other groups. The visitor information centre is currently located on Highway 21.
Last week, Kincardine CAO Murray Clarke prepared a report for council with a recommendation to move visitor services into the Arts Centre and maintain an information kiosk on the highway, possibly in the municipal airport terminal. Municipal staff would share space with the arts groups currently occupying the space, including the Kincardine Theatre Guild, Bluewater Summer Playhouse, Scottish Festival, Victoria Park Gallery and the Scougall Gallery. Clarke said he and other staff held two meetings with the tenants to discuss renovations to the building and a floor plan that would accommodate all the groups and municipal staff.
“The overall response was very positive from all of the tenant representatives,” he said. “There was enthusiasm with respect to both the renovation plan, and with the synergy of adding tourism and information services to the building mix.”
Larry Walton, of NA Engineering, hired by the municipality to lead the renovation project, was on hand with draft design plans that showed how the interior of the Arts Centre could be reconfigured to allow visitor services and the arts community to co-exist, as well as accommodate meeting space and public washrooms. A cost will be provided for the renovations, including washrooms, electrical and plumbing, once a plan has been selected.
In considering the Arts Centre as the recommended option for downtown visitor services, Clarke pointed out, “adding the visitor services function to the Kincardine Centre of the Arts is a logical complementary use. All activity and programming in the centre would benefit from greater traffic and exposure. Visitor services would support the other functions, by showcasing arts and crafts and the Scougall prints and would provide no-cost box office service for both professional and amateur performing arts groups.”
Clarke added that the location is ideal, given that many tourism-related activities and events take place in Victoria Park, including the Monday Market. By adding public washrooms at the back of the building where set construction currently is done, it would reduce the costs to event holders, including the Scottish Festival, for portable toilets.
A key benefit to locating visitor and tourism services at the Arts Centre, Clarke said, is the municipality owns the building, therefore eliminating a rent cost. Because the municipality will have use of the building, staff recommended forgiving rents paid by the current tenants. The groups, combined, pay $17,700 in rent to the municipality. Kincardine currently pays $17,500 to rent space for visitor services on the highway.
Councillor Mike Leggett said that he didn’t see a place for the Woodturner’s Guild in the designs. Clarke replied that staff is working with the guild to find an alternate location, pointing out that the former fire hall bays are prime rental space and the guild only pays $700 per year.
“If we are forgiving rents, $700 doesn’t really mean much,” Leggett said.
“I’m very pleased that the arts community is getting some attention and its needs are being addressed,” said councillor Ron Coristine, but added that he is upset that the Tourism Table wasn’t consulted on the plan when it had been promised it would be.
Councillor Jacqueline Faubert pointed out that Team Kincardine, when it had discussed co-locating with tourism staff last year, had indicated that representatives from its groups would be open to provide staffing at the downtown visitor centre outside regular business hours.
“We would be happy to engage in that conversation,” Clarke said, adding that volunteer initiatives are welcome.
Deputy mayor Anne Eadie said renovations to the Arts Centre (expected to be done in phases over two years to avoid disrupting the arts groups) provides an opportunity to see if co-location with Team Kincardine would work. She reminded council of Team Kincardine’s suggestion of renting space at
Mayor Larry Kraemer said it has long been his desire to see groups connected to economic development and tourism work together and agreed with Eadie’s suggestion.
“If I’m wrong, or ones like me are wrong, it will (become clear) pretty quickly,” he said.
Councillor Randy Roppel said the idea doesn’t make financial sense.
“From my point of view, what makes sense is to utilize a building that we own,” he said. “I think our constituents must think we are crazy. To go out and rent a building on a temporary basis again is totally ludicrous.”
The idea of doing away with rent at the Arts Centre sparked debate and many around the council table voiced concern that the move would set a precedent. Further discussion was deferred to later in the month.
Faubert said that disagreement over rents and where services will be located should not hold up repairs to the Arts Centre. She said tenants have waited years for repairs to electrical, plumbing and the heating and cooling system. Kraemer said deferring two weeks wouldn’t make much difference.
“I want to hear thoughts from other groups,” he said, referring to the location of visitor services and to Team Kincardine.
Coristine said Team Kincardine should be included in the development of a report by staff on a temporary location downtown for visitor services, since it has already done much of the leg work. Kraemer said he believed that that was the intention.