Ukee Chamber to ask District for rent break

The Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce is facing financial struggle and could potentially opt-out of its lease at the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre.

“Our budget is very, very, tight out there,” said the chamber’s executive director Sue Payne. “We do have an option of getting out of the contract with a 90-day notice, not that we want to do that but we may be forced to if it’s putting the chamber under.”

The chamber currently pays the district about $1,700 a month to rent the PRVC and, during Ucluelet’s May 13 regular council meeting, councillor Dario Corlazzoli urged council to consider lowering this to $700 a month for the rest of the year.

Balking at the roughly $7,000 in lost revenue this would cost the district, council tabled Corlazzoli’s request until a meeting could be had with the chamber to hash out potential options.

That meeting occurred on May 20 and Payne left confident a short-term solution will be found.

“We had a really good discussion with the district, lots of brainstorming, lots of ideas and I think everybody has the same goal: to make sure (the PRVC) stays open and that we continue to provide great regional information,” she said.

She expected Ucluelet council to pass a motion lowering the chamber’s rent at the PRVC during May 27’s regular council meeting.

“At the next council meeting they are going to propose that they reduce our rent at least in the interim and hopefully that will give us a little bit of breathing room to move forward and not have to close up shop,” she said.

Businesses pay $100 membership fees to be represented at the PRVC but with about 40 Tofitian businesses and about 77 Ucluetian businesses participating, these fees do not cover the chamber’s rent, according to Payne.

The chamber’s budget was hit hard when the Federal government made cuts to its summer student employment program forcing the chamber to hire additional staff at the PRVC to keep up with Tourism BC’s hours of operation guidelines.

With the chamber’s financial situation in dire straits, some on the chamber’s board have wondered whether it’s fair for the district to be charging the chamber to provide a service that benefits the district.

“We’re providing a service out there to the entire community, we are generating traffic we’re trying to generate visitorship, we’re providing a lot of information for the community of Tofino as well, and we’re really not being paid for it, in fact, we’re having to pay to provide that service,” Payne said. Simply decreasing the chamber’s rent may not solve the PRVC problem in the long term so further options are being looked at including possibly raising membership fees, according to Payne.

“In order for it to be continually sustainable the onus is on us to look at all options and to come up with a better funding model or whatever we can because it’s not a business that makes money,” she said. “Let’s face it, the taxpayers don’t want to have to subsidize it either, although it does benefit the communities.”

Ucluelet has been operating the PRVC for about eight years.

“With everything, sometimes change is needed and we just have to move forward and figure out how that’s going to change but everybody is very cognizant of what’s going on and we’re also very passionate about keeping it going,” Payne said.

During council’s May 13 discussion, councillor Geoff Lyons wondered if the district could bring in more money by leasing the PRVC to a different organization, and Tofino was raised as a possible candidate by several councillors as well as members of the meeting’s audience.

Payne acknowledged such a move could potentially bring in more money but the increased revenue would cost Ucluelet its control of a district-owned asset.

“The rent might be a whole lot more out there to lease that space if it wasn’t the chamber doing it,” she said. “If we weren’t taking it on and it was all just about the money it would probably be a whole lot more for somebody to lease that space.”

She said it is important for Ucluelet to maintain control of the PRVC because of the district’s original investment.

“The district of Ucluelet bought the land to invest in it,” she said.

“The community has invested into it so the community wants to see benefit and that’s what it comes down to; Ucluelet put money into it, Ucluelet wants to see benefit…Not to say Tofino wouldn’t provide regional information, they probably would, but I think since the district has bought it they want to be able to have some control over it.”

reporter@westerlynews.ca