U.S. warship visit brings economic lift, Victoria retailers say

Downtown merchants should be prepared for an onslaught this weekend if previous U.S. navy visits are any indication.

Darlene Hollstein, general manager of the Bay Centre, said the mix of a U.S. aircraft carrier, cruise ships and tourists makes for a healthy weekend.

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“We couldn’t be more excited. These are the unexpected little gems that land in your lap,” she said. “And everyone benefits from it.”

USS Nimitz, one of the largest warships in the world, is visiting Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt this weekend before heading north to Nanoose Bay, site of the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Ranges, for trials and testing. The aircraft carrier and its 2,200 crew are to arrive today and leave Monday.

Hollstein said a naval carrier such as the Nimitz “changes the entire demographic” of downtown Victoria.

“We advise our retailers because it literally fills the streets of downtown — it’s exciting times,” she said.

“It will be buzzing,” she said, though the Bay Centre, which switches to later summer hours next weekend, will not be changing its hours to accommodate the ship.

The 333-metre-long aircraft carrier, which can carry 90 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, will moor off Royal Roads University, near the mouth of Esquimalt Harbour.

Members of the Royal Canadian Navy will compete against their American counterparts in sporting events at CFB Esquimalt’s athletic fields on Colville Road on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The crew will be reaching out to the homeless by serving lunch at Our Place shelter in Victoria on Saturday.

The Nimitz has visited Victoria before, in October 2007.

This weekend’s visit will keep John Wilson hopping. The owner of Wilson’s Transportation spent Thursday afternoon scheduling four coaches to transport sailors from Ogden Point to the city centre, starting today at 4:30 p.m. and running until 10 a.m. Monday.

A Tourism Victoria board member, Wilson also noted the destination-marketing group had staff board the ship in Everett, Washington, to provide information to sailors wanting to take in the sights when they arrive here.

“I think this will be a big boom for this weekend’s economy,” he said.

Goodfellas Cigar Shops, downtown and in Royal Oak, expects to be busy.

“We usually see some of them popping in whenever there’s a big ship in town,” said Goodfellas’ Phil Turcotte.

Ken Kelly, general manager of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said while he hasn’t heard of any businesses doing anything special this weekend for the Nimitz, the red carpet will be out.

“The impact [of a carrier] is always huge,” he said. “And on Friday, when we have three cruise ships coming in, to have another [2,000] crew members in the city, that really creates a festive environment.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

— files from Sandra McCullochh

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