Kincardine signs three-year lease for tourism office

Councillors admit it doesn’t have all the details; will be worked out later

By Barb McKay


Kincardine council pulled off a shotgun wedding with the BIA and Chamber of Commerce last week when it agreed to a three-year lease for a downtown office space.


Council was presented with an agreement, five minutes before its meeting last Wednesday, to share space with other organizations at 777B Queen Street as a sub-tenant and the Chamber of Commerce as the lease holder.


Under the agreement, the municipality would pay $1,850.50 per month ($22,206 annually), which includes rent, hydro, water, weekly cleaning, Internet, floor mats and a proportionate share of added fees, such as exterior maintenance and snow removal. Kincardine budgeted $22,000 this year (based on a month-to-month lease agreement) for 914 square feet of office space on Highway 21.


The Chamber (lease holder) and BIA will also occupy office space in the building and each pay $209 per month, or $2,508 annually. The Penetangore Regional Economic Development Corporation (PREDC) expressed a desire to share space in the building and has been added to the lease as a sub-tenant, paying $419 per month, or $5,028 annually. Additional utility costs would be the responsibility of the Chamber, which reserves the right to review the cost of hydro and water on a quarterly basis and adjust rentals accordingly.


Realtor Linda Bowers, also Chamber president and PREDC board member, indicated that she was the listing agent for the agreement and that it would expire the following day at 4 p.m. The reason for the quick turnaround, Chamber executive director Jackie Pawlikowski explained to The Independent last Thursday, is that the municipality needed to give one month’s notice to its landlord at the Highway 21 visitor centre location and there was a desire to move everyone into the downtown location for the start of tourism season.


To provide some background, Team Kincardine (Chamber, BIA and PREDC) has been looking at opportunities to co-locate downtown since 2012 and originally considered the former Foodland building. When council directed municipal staff to look at options to move visitor services downtown, while maintaining a presence on the highway, Team Kincardine set out to find spaces on Queen Street that would allow its groups to operate alongside tourism staff, potentially providing after hours tourism help. It settled on 777B Queen Street as the best location. Meanwhile, staff brought a report back to council early in the new year with the suggestion of moving tourism staff into the Arts Centre, which currently provides tourism brochures during the summer months and will soon be undergoing interior renovations. Team Kincardine suggested that staff share space at 777B Queen Street while renovations are being completed.


During its Feb. 19 meeting, council agreed to co-locate tourism staff temporarily on Queen Street with Team Kincardine. At that time, the Chamber and BIA each offered to pay $3,000 annually for their portion of the building. On Feb. 25, municipal staff met with representatives of the Chamber and BIA to go over details of the agreement and make a site visit to 777B Queen Street.


When the agreement was presented, some councillors balked at being asked to make a snap decision without adequate time to thoroughly read the document. In her report, clerk Donna MacDougall expressed concern that while the Chamber and BIA benefit from rental rate reductions by adding PREDC as a tenant the municipality does not. As well, there was a large discrepancy in space allocated for tourism staff.


A drawing of the interior of the building shows space in the front lobby for visitor services and a nine-foot by 10-foot office for tourism staff. An approximately 25-foot-long by nine foot and seven-inches wide space parallel to the offices and leading to a kitchenette, washroom and board room space was reserved for tourism summer students. The total space amounts to roughly 685 square feet.


Municipal staff argues, however, that the space is a corridor and is actually common area and not suitable work space for students and, therefore, tourism staff only receives roughly 330 square feet. This would mean that the municipality occupies 53 per cent of the office space but will pay 68 per cent of the cost.


Councillor Randy Roppel said while he didn’t believe visitor services should be centred in Kincardine’s core he could swallow his pride and support a move to the Arts Centre. But, he said, it didn’t make sense to rent space when the municipality owns buildings.


“Be downtown,” he told the groups, “but pay the bill yourselves. Is the reason you’re here because you need funding and you want to do it on the backs of taxpayers? No way.”


Councillor Maureen Couture said it would be irresponsible for council to use taxpayer money to rent half the space it currently has for the same price. She said she needed to see a full lease agreement with all the details and recommended that council defer making a decision until the first meeting in April. Councillor Randy Roppel made a motion to defer the decision, but it was defeated.


Prior to council discussion, Laura Haight spoke to the issue and asked council to hold off on making a decision. She learned the lease agreement was coming to council when she called the municipal office asking if the matter was coming up in April, as she had been following it, and was told it would be discussed that night. Haight questioned the rental amounts.


“I’m curious if this is a revenue opportunity for the Chamber of Commerce,” she said.


Haight pointed to the tourism strategic plan which states that Kincardine should “do tourism like we mean it.” She said downsizing hardly looks like Kincardine means it. Councillor Ron Coristine accused Haight of providing inaccurate information, stating that tourism staff would actually occupy 800 square feet. Couture argued that that calculation includes the basement, which will be used for storage.


Mayor Larry Kraemer said putting visitor services downtown would bring more traffic to the core. He spoke in favour of co-locating.


“There will be growing pains, but groups that work together accomplish more than those that build silos.”

Councillor Ken Craig agreed that there needs to be continued discussion about the agreement. It is unclear, he noted, what expenses the municipality could incur on top of the rent and utilities. Signage, for example, is not included in the lease agreement, and if the municipality wants to add air conditioning for tourism staff it would have to bear the cost. Craig agreed with the decision to move in with Team Kincardine but said he would like to see a two-year agreement with an option to extend.


“As tenants, if we choose to pull out it’s not such a big deal because it’s their (Chamber’s) building,” he said.


Councillor Jacqueline Faubert pointed out that co-location is a model used by other municipalities. Organizations with no malicious intent coming together, she said, in the best interest of the municipality to help tourism prosper. She said it would not be progressive of the municipality to avoid approving an agreement over signage.


Deputy mayor Anne Eadie said this is only a trial to see if co-locating works.


“We wanted to try it for this summer, so I support it.”


Councillor Candy Hewitt said the agreement included enough of a fundamental basis for her to support it.


“It’s not the end of discussion,” she said, adding that she was willing to defer the outstanding details, but they should be discussed at a later date.


Staff presented council with three options to deal with the lease. One, to accept the lease with modified terms, which would include the $3,000 annual payments from the Chamber and BIA, as per their original commitment (and $6,000 annually from PREDC). Another, to accept the lease agreement with other modified terms, and a third, to accept the lease agreement as presented (with a three-year commitment) and provide termination notice to the landlord at the Highway 21 location. Council chose the third option in a vote of 7-2.


Last week, Rick Clarke told The Independent that discussions have been ongoing about co-locating for some time. While the lease agreement came to council just prior to its meeting, all the important details of the agreement had been discussed with staff beforehand.


“There wasn’t anything in the agreement that they didn’t expect,” he said. “We regret that (council) didn’t get it in the agenda package Friday, but in terms of the details of the lease agreement, there was no issue.


“Let’s move forward. There’s a lot of work to be done. Let’s move on.”