A new $3-million visitor-interpretative centre to attract tourists after they disembark the ferry at Swartz Bay is being touted as a priority by the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce.
“In my mind, it’s a real no-brainer,” said Chamber executive director Chris Fudge.
The current Sidney Visitor Centre is sinking on one side, has a rodent problem and is beyond its useful life, Fudge said.
“It’s being held together by tape and Band-Aids.”
A proposal to replace the 25-year-old building — just off the Pat Bay Highway about two minutes’ drive south of the B.C. Ferry terminal — has been submitted to the provincial government.
The estimated cost of a new Saanich Peninsula Visitor Centre — which would be built on the same site, on land leased from the Transportation Ministry — includes site preparation, road work, parking areas, septic system upgrade and utilities, lighting and landscaping, Fudge said.
Permits and approval from the District of North Saanich would also be needed. That process and the completion of construction are estimated to take about one year.
Supporters hope a new centre would help communities on the peninsula capture more of the region’s visitors — and their spending money. According to statistics from Tourism Victoria, a total of 2.38 million visitors came to Greater Victoria in 2009, generating almost $1 billion in tourist revenue.
A new 5,000-square-foot building — easily visible from the highway — would also serve as a gateway to the capital region. “The idea is getting people to slow down and explore the region,” Fudge said.
“I’ve been involved in the tourism industry a long time, and there’s an overabundance of information and different mediums through which to get information, but it doesn’t replace first-hand knowledge where we and our staff can really engage with visitors.”
To that end, the new centre could include retail and interpretative displays, showcase local cuisine and wines, and host a First Nations exhibit.
Unlike the current centre, which is open seasonally and staffed from a pool of volunteers, the new centre would be open year-round and look at hiring staff in addition to volunteers.
Plans also include three charging stations for electric vehicles, showers, washrooms, secure overnight parking for truckers and easier access to a neighbouring industrial area.
The Sidney Visitor Centre is one of 25 such information centres on Vancouver Island.
It served 18,280 visitors in 2011, according to statistics from the B.C. Visitor Network. However, almost two million vehicles passed by on their way to or from the ferry, say B.C. Ferries traffic statistics.
Not all those cars carried tourists, but “there’s a big missed opportunity there in terms of capturing more of that traffic,” Fudge said.
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