Municipality makes no decision on downtown tourist booth
By Liz Dadson
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Kincardine council has come up with no decision on locating a tourist booth in downtown Kincardine.
After extensive discussion and debate in committee-of-the-whole last night (Feb. 5), council decided to defer the decision until it has more information and more options from which to choose.
Chief administrative officer Murray Clarke outlined the recommended option for renovating the interior of the Kincardine Arts Centre, which, he said, coincided with council's direction for finding a location for a downtown tourist booth and washrooms.
Clarke said that while staff is aware of Team Kincardine's proposal to co-locate itself and tourism staff in the south half of the Royal LePage realty building at 777 Queen Street, Kincardine, council's direction was to find a municipal visitors' centre in the downtown.
Therefore, the staff proposal is to renovate and reconfigure the arts centre to incorporate a tourist booth with the current art groups in the municipally-owned building.
Clarke cited various reports to support this proposal, noting that other areas are closing their visitors' centres along major highways, and ensuring that tourist information is available in high traffic areas such as the downtown core.
He said a meeting with the arts centre tenant groups and NA Engineering, consultant on the renovation project, was held in November, 2013. A follow-up meeting was held Jan. 23, 2014, and the overall response was positive, said Clarke.
"There was enthusiasm with respect to both the renovation plan, and with the synergy of adding tourism and information services to the building mix," he said. "It was felt that a concern regarding the requirement for meeting space could be addressed through a range of options."
Larry Walton of NA Engineering, Kincardine, outlined the floor plan for the newly-renovated arts centre.
The proposal calls for moving the Kincardine Scottish Festival office and the Bluewater Summer Playhouse office to the east side of the old fire hall, and turning the north end of the building into a visitors' centre.
This would mean removing walls and opening up the front lobby area into the current Scougall Gallery. Part of that gallery could be incorporated into the Victoria Park Gallery which would remain where it is, as would the current washrooms - to be upgraded.
The Kincardine Scottish Festival office would be moved to the southeast corner of the old fire hall, and the Bluewater Summer Playhouse on the other side, west of two new washrooms that would face Victoria Park on the east side of the old fire hall.
The west side of the old fire hall would be used for set construction and storage. There is no determined space for the Grey-Bruce Woodturners Guild.
The basement and auditorium areas would be updated, with proper heating and cooling systems, electrical wiring and plumbing.
Clarke noted that putting the tourist booth in the arts centre could be revenue-neutral as well. "There is merit in forgiving the rents charged to the tenants."
In the financial considerations, it was noted that rents charged to the tenants total $17,700, while the cost to lease the tourist booth on Highway 21 is $17,500.
It was also noted that the renovations to the arts centre would be funded from the arts centre reserve, with possible supplementary funding from the sale of the Annex, and, if required, money from the tourist booth reserve fund.
The recommended option was to approve locating the tourist booth in the arts centre, and proceed with steps to retrofit and renovate the centre; retain the current Highway 21 tourist booth until the transition can be made to the arts centre; forgive the rents paid by tenants at the arts centre; and for staff to investigate opportunities to deliver tourism information on Highway 21.
Councillor Ron Coristine said he is pleased that the arts community is getting some attention and its needs are being met. However, he was surprised and disappointed that the Tourism Table was not consulted. "Is it staff or council making policy here?"
Councillor Jacqueline Faubert had some concerns, asking if the art gallery is expected to now house the Scougall Gallery prints.
"There may be an opportunity to feature the Scougall prints in the lobby space of the centre," said Clarke. "The visitors' centre area is where the current prints would hang."
Faubert asked if any consideration was given to Team Kincardine's proposal to assist with staffing on the off-hours, such as Saturday nights downtown.
Clark said staff would be happy to discuss that. However, typically, off-hours tourist booth staffing can be done by volunteers.
"I'm glad we've reached this stage," said deputy mayor Anne Eadie. "You've done an excellent job with what you had to work with. I look forward to the end result."
She asked if there was an opportunity for Team Kincardine and the tourism staff to work together in a temporary location while the renovations are being done to the arts centre.
In addition, she is concerned that forgiving rents for the tenants of the arts centre, could be setting a dangerous precedent.
Councillor Mike Leggett asked what happens to the woodturners' guild if there is no space for that group?
Clarke said there should be space in the set-construction area for the wood-working shop. Otherwise, they would have to vacate, he said, noting they have prime space with a great view at $700/year rent.
Leggett argued that the woodturners should have space in the arts centre as well.
He also argued for more than one recommended option to consider. "Other groups have ideas but they're being ignored."
The building at 777 Queen Street, Kincardine has been considered as a possible location for a downtown tourist both
Councillor Candy Hewitt agreed, saying she wanted to consider more than one option.
"I have no problem with one option," said councillor Maureen Couture. "We have only one building that we own downtown. I like the idea of the new washrooms. A lot of the space in that building was being under-utilized.
"We had a presentation from Team Kincardine. Why would we spend money to rent or purchase another building? We've already divested ourselves of a building (the Annex)."
She said that forgiving rents is an issue that should come back to council for discussion.
Walton said the design and construction of the renovation would take one to three years, and could be done in phases.
"In the short-term, perhaps Kincardine tourism and Team Kincardine could share space in another downtown building," said councillor Kenneth Craig. "I would like to see a report from staff about that option."
Mayor Larry Kraemer said the woodturners' guild was one of the original tenants in the arts centre and he is very uncomfortable with doing away with their work space.
"Our staff did exactly what they were asked to do by council," he said. "Since then, we've had another option for a different downtown building, come forward. I would like more information on at least two options and the advantages and disadvantages."
He recommended council defer the issue until council has a thorough discussion of the building at 777 Queen.
Couture said the woodturners could use available space in the old Westario Power building.
She also pointed out that the majority of the money in the tourist booth reserve was for water and sewer infrastructure, with about $200,000 for the actual building.
"We should find a place to re-locate the arts centre tenants to, and do all the renovation work at once," said Leggett.
Faubert cautioned against deferring the issue too long because the renovations need to get under way as soon as possible, for the safety and security of that building and its tenants.
"It's an important project," agreed Kraemer, "but we need to do it right."
Craig put forward a motion to request a staff report by Feb. 19 regarding the co-location of a visitors' centre with other stakeholders in a different downtown location.
Faubert asked if council could perhaps proceed with any part of this project which is not "implicated by indecision."
Council agreed to give it two weeks.
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Wednesday, February 05, 2014