The Ucluelet Chamber of Commerce is in financial trouble and may have to give up its lease at the Pacific Rim Visitor Centre.
Municipal councillor Dario Corlazzoli raised the issue during last week’s council meeting and said it had been sprung on him during a chamber meeting the night before.
“At the meeting last night there was major concerns with what they’re going to do…some of the comments weren’t something that were very positive,” he said. “They were getting to the point of looking at taking their 90-day option of giving up the information centre at the junction; they just can’t afford to run it.”
The chamber leases the centre from the district for about $20,000 a year at $1,700 a month.
Corlazzoli put forward a motion to lower the chamber’s rent from $1,700 to $700 for the rest of the year with the condition that the two sides meet in the fall to discuss a long-term strategy for the PRVC.
“They’re $18,000 short, their only option is to forego it and in three months they’ll shut the centre down because they just don’t have the funds to operate it,” he said.
“We either look at how we can help them or look at finding a new contractor; it’s as simple as that.”
He said the Federal Government’s summer student cuts have put the chamber’s ability to meet Tourism BC’s visitor centre hours-of-operation requirements in jeopardy. “It really hit them sideways and they don’t have a way of dealing with it short-term,” he said.
Coun. Geoff Lyons noted lowering the rent to $700 would cost the district about $7,000 in lost revenue and that it was too late to amend the district’s 2014 budget.
He suggested seeking another contractor.
“Is there anyone else out there that would take it on and pay $20,000,” he asked. “The chamber have done an incredible job, I’m not trying to deny that, but I just have concerns with a semiapproved budget and changing it at this 11th hour.”
Corlazzoli noted a willing new tenant likely lives next door but that leasing the space to Tofino may not be the right move.
“If we put this back out to tender I can guarantee you there will be
two organizations that I can think of that will jump right in and they have substantial funds if that’s the direction we want,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s what we want to see…the purpose was to try to keep control for Ucluelet and it’s a little bit worrisome that money is going to drive what ends
up happening out there in the short term; it’s quite scary at the moment.”
Council Randy Oliwa asked why Tofino isn’t offering support.
“Why is Ucluelet footing the bill when we all know the majority of the traffic going through that centre is asking for Tofino?” he asked.
He said Tourism Tofino has bought memberships from centres “all up and down this Island” as part of a regional marketing approach but bypassed their own regional centre.
“We can speculate why that is but they know the fact that our chamber of commerce is struggling and yet they’re not coming forward,” he said.
“We’re already giving out Tofino information but yet they’re not stepping forward because of what reason? Why would you not support your local visitor centre and come forward and pay those services and join up; it’s perplexing.” Corlazzoli noted Ucluelet chose to purchase the junction property and operate the facility in collaboration with the Pacific Rim National Park and Tofino was left out of the party.
He said Oliwa’s statement was “somewhat unfair” because some Tofino businesses do support the centre.
“There is constant dialogue between Tourism Ucluelet, Tourism Tofino and both chambers,” he said. “It’s just a matter of a little bit of a power struggle on what added things they would like to see happen but there is buy in, it’s just not the buy in we would like to see.”
Irving suggested referring the decision to lower the chamber’s rent to council’s next meeting and for council to meet with the chamber in the meantime to discuss potential strategies.
“I think we’re all very keen on a win-win,” he said. “I think there’s solutions that we can work on collectively to find a way to make this work.”