Visitors will once again be welcome at the Pat Bay Highway information centre as they arrive on Vancouver Island via a BC Ferries vessel.
The building is currently undergoing renovations and is expected to re-open by May 15. Denny Warner, executive director of the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, says the Chamber has renegotiated its land lease with the Real Property Division of the provincial Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services.
“For the first year, we get it for one dollar,” Warner said. “Beyond that, I cannot say as the documents are still being drafted, but it will be significantly better (than in previous years).”
The centre closed in the winter of 2013. At the time the Chamber cited costs — both the expense of running the service and the impact of rodent infestations and other structural deficiencies — as reasons behind the closure. Warner said all of that is being taken care of. BC Hazmat is taking care of the rodent problem, she said, and South Island Power Sweeping is getting the exterior of the building ready to the re-opening. Warner added there needs to be work done on the flooring and footings of the structure as well. She said the building was considered for demolition at one point, but thanks to the help of Chamber members, it will survive.
Warner said their main funding source — the Town of Sidney — has not increased its annual contribution to the operation of the Chamber or its visitor service centres. The Chamber operates its current one on Beacon Avenue next to the Mary Winspear Centre. She said to cut costs and be able to keep the Pat Bay facility open year-’round, the Chamber administration will move there from its office in the Lunn building on Beacon Avenue. That lease, she said, expires at the beginning of May.
The Beacon Avenue Visitor Information Centre will remain open. It is also the home of the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society. Warner added the Chamber is currently talking with the District of North Saanich, seeking a contribution of site maintenance for the Pat Bay location.
Warner added the Chamber will seek out some of the former volunteers from when the Pat Bay Highway centre was still open and try to attract new ones to help make it work.
“We will also be looking at the way we deliver visitor services,” she said, “for example, going out to people’s cars.”
Asked it that could look like the 1950s-style drive-ins, Warner said something like that could fit in with the Chamber’s long-term vision for the site, to help increase visitor traffic.
The loss of visitor traffic into the information centre, and subsequently to area businesses, was another reason the Chamber is re-opening on the highway.
“There were unforeseen consequences with the closure,” she said. “There’s an estimated 2.5 million visitors off of the ferries each year. Some businesses told us they saw a decline in visitors, related to the loss of the (centre).
“The Pat Bay Highway is a main route. The centre received around 20,000 visitors each year when it was only open seasonally. The plan is now to stay open year-’round.”