The Cowichan Valley’s tourism profile is climbing now that a new visitor centre is planned on the Island Highway and improvements are underway at the neighbouring B.C. Forest Discovery Centre.
These projects are taking place as the area celebrates Friday’s announcement that the Cowichan Valley will host the 2018 B.C. Summer Games, an event bound to boost the area’s profile and inject money into the local economy.
An analysis of the impact of the 2008 games in Kelowna measured a direct economic impact of $2.6 million. A total of 2,800 competitors attended those Games, with most staying four days and more than half cheered on by friends or relatives, said the Economic Planning Group study.
The Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce and the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre will relocate into a new 3,100-square-foot building from cramped space at 361 Trans-Canada Hwy., chamber manager Sonja Nagel said Friday. The move is expected to take place in November.
A request for qualifications for general contractors has been issued, with a closing date of Feb. 1. Building materials are being supplied by Pacific Homes, based in Cobble Hill, which specializes in prefabricated buildings. This will be an energy-efficient building, designed to reflect area history and culture. It will echo the design of local barns.
The groundbreaking will take place in March, Nagel said. “We’ve been in the process for about seven years to try to come together to build a new regional visitor centre that represents the entire Cowichan region.”
It will be a destination in itself, with 10 themes showcased in an interpretive centre, she said. Themes include wine and culinary, First Nations, activities and museums.
Nagel expects to see more visitors show up in the new centre and hopefully spill over to the forestry centre next door. Last year, 14,000 visits were tallied in the visitor centre, up 13 per cent from 2011, she said.
The forestry centre is leasing land to the visitor building.
B.C.’s forest industry is profiled at the centre, which is hosting the annual Bigleaf Maple Syrup Festival on Feb. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The event includes tapping demonstrations, displays, cooking and a syrup competition, as well as train rides. A total of 1,400 visitors attended in 2012, Forest Centre manager Anthony Bone said.
A new sewer line connecting to the municipality of North Cowichan has been installed at the Forest Centre, replacing a septic system, and the parking lot is being revamped, Bone said. Parking upgrades include a new exit, improved access, dedicated RV drive-through parking spaces and an overflow parking area.
Last year, the centre had about 40,000 visits, he said.
Overall budget for the visitor centre and improvements to the forestry centre total $1.9 million, a report from the Chamber of Commerce states. Funding came from the Islands Coastal Economic Trust, the chamber, municipalities of North Cowichan and Duncan and the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
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