Visitor Centre in need of cash

Chamber of commerce seeking support from area municipalities

For the Pat Bay Highway Visitor Centre to re-open for the next tourist season, it’s going to need some financial help.

The Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce is approaching its municipal partners and other agencies, seeking an estimated $80,000 to operate the centre next year. Chris Fudge, chamber executive director, spoke to North Saanich council Monday night, outlining the need to come up with enough money to operate the facility and keep it in good condition.

“We have identified the total amount of money we need,” Fudge said, “but we are making no specific request to the various municipalities and agencies.”

The chamber has sent letters seeking support to North Saanich, Sidney, Central Saanich and the District of Saanich. They are also looking to the province, Capital Regional District Tourism Victoria and Destination B.C. The latter group already has committed their normal annual contribution to the Pat Bay Visitor Centre, leaving approximately $55,000 left to go.

The centre is 25 years old and in need of constant repair, Fudge pointed out, adding that plans to replace it with a new facility are mired down.

The chamber and architectural firm Finlayson-Bonet announced last year they had plans to replace the old centre with a new one that would attract more attention from travellers on the highway. This multi-million dollar project is now, however, on hold as efforts to secure funding from the province have been unsuccessful.

Fudge stated in his letter to council that due to ongoing maintenance costs, insurance and pest control, the chamber is “no longer able to bear these operational costs without financial support.”

The centre, without funding, may have to close prior to the 2014 tourist season.

“This is an important visitor touch point,” he said Monday night. “The centre can influence visitors’ length of stay and volunteers there provide first-hand knowledge of the area.”

Sidney already supports the chamber and its Beacon Avenue Visitor Centre to the tune of a $60,000 fee for service.

North Saanich council will consider the request for financial support at its budget deliberations beginning in December.