KELOWNA - Should the city be putting a tourism building in one of its most prized park spaces?
After a public survey on City Park re-designs closed July 15 the conversation - and controversy - is still going strong about whether the city should make room for a new visitor's centre in the park. City councillors requested the design plan include a new park pavillion to replace the previous one which housed concessions, restaurants and public washrooms until it was destroyed by a fire in 2011.
The visitor's centre and administration offices would be in a tenant in the pavillion which would house programmable community space and public washrooms. Urban design planner Patrick McCormick says the location was the top choice out of a number of sites considered back in 2008 during consultation with Tourism Kelowna.
“Tourism Kelowna was looking for a site that would really put Kelowna in a good light and create an iconic building that would be memorable for the people who use it,” he says.
The 2008 Intervistas report looked at a range of potential locations including City Park, the MacDonald's site on Highway 97 near Abbott Street and other spots along the highway. Tourism Kelowna communications manager Catherine Frechette says the alternate sites posed the same problem faced by the existing visitor's centre at 544 Harvey Avenue: a lack of pedestrian access.
The other factor, McCormick says, is highway traffic.
"One thing a lot of people don't understand... we have to be very carefully about access issues, it's not always obvious what the logistics are."
It's the Ministry of Transportation's mandate to keep vehicles moving along Highway 97 and to avoid congestion, he says.
"The ministry has jurisdiction over it and how traffic moves down that corridor. They are consulted when it comes to a number of things on either side."
A particularly tough sell is the added parking spaces required. An extra 25 stalls and 5 RV spots would be built in conjunction with the building to accomodate incoming traffic on Abbott Street, McCormick says.
While some residents agree the visitor's centre deserves a better location somewhere in the downtown core, they're hesistant about trading green space for an administrative building. Monte Barwick, a caricature artist working in the park for 14 years, sees both sides to the coin.
“It would probably bring more people here right off the highway, but at the same time it might be a little more congested down here than it already is," he says, adding the extra parking stalls would also impact the leisurely atmosphere of the space.
“You would lose some of the ambiance and the whole feeling of the park, that would be my biggest concern I think. It's nice to have the trees and the garden there – that's a real asset to the park.”
Visiting the water park with her family, Kelowna resident Maryland Fiume agrees.
“I think if it was somewhere in the downtown core it would be more accessible to tourists... but not necessarily in the park.”
On the other hand, Duncan Stewart sees plenty of room in the park for a visitor's centre.
“It's a good central location for people to come out and find information about the city - it's easy to find," he says. “If you're going to give information people look for City Park, so what better place to put it?”
And with new piers for the downtown waterfront and the Bernard Avenue revitalization, Stewart says the ball is already rolling and the park should be no exception.
“You're putting in more boat slots you may as well do everything else,” he says, adding as a town that makes its money off tourism, Kelowna should be investing in better ways for visitors to find out what to do in town.
"I'm a parking guy and I spend a third of my day telling people where to go and what to do.”
A definitive design plan for City Park is still a ways off.
"Nothing is cast in stone," McCormick says, and city council will decide just how much space the pavillion will take up.
City staff are still receiving letters from the public in the mail in addition to the feedback provided through last month's online forum.
“We are simply fielding the comments... My task is to put those comments in a report. Ultimately it's council's decision to support the plan,” McCormick says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.