The future of Cowichan’s visitor information centre will be decided today.
The long-planned project pegged for the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre parking lot still requires $609,000.
The Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce hopes to get that cash through a grant-in-aid from the Cowichan Valley Regional District.
And after months of debate, CVRD directors are expected to make their decision during a special board meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Also on the table, though, is an option to fund the regional tourism hub plus another $150,000 to each of the valley’s gateway visitor centres — in south Cowichan, Lake Cowichan and Ladysmith — for a grand total of $1,059,000 in taxpayer cash.
“There was concern expressed by the west and south (regional representatives) that we couldn’t invest in a central, or regional, tourism centre without adequate gateway tourism information opportunities,” CVRD Chairman Rob Hutchins explained.
There’s also a sense of urgency to the grand-in-aid request. The chamber of commerce is fast-approaching a June 30 deadline to receive a grant of about $750,000 from the Island Coastal Economic Trust — but it only gets that full amount if the CVRD forks out the $609,000 grant-in-aid.
“The bottom line is it’s a challenging time for this investment,” Hutchins admitted.
“But this is not just about a tourism facility. It’s an opportunity to showcase local businesses — expressly to do with the wine industries, the cheese industries, the agricultural industries. It can encourage people to stay a little longer, enjoy the tastes and benefits of the Cowicahn Valley. But we’ll see what happens.”
Chamber president Ranjit Dhami will be watching Wednesday’s discussion closely.
“I’m very hopeful they will go ahead and give us the funds to create this project, so we can move forward with it,” he said.
He’s also supportive of the gateway initiatives — in fact, it’s always been the chamber’s intention to boost services at its satellite offices via the central hub.
“The whole point, the reason we’re building this, is to have one central place plus areas that can capture people as they’re coming into the Cowichan Valley and give points of reference in each area, but that central place supports all of these micro-outlets all over the place.”
If the grant-in-aid request is denied, however, Dhami said the chamber will have to re-evaluate its plans.
“With the CVRD’s help, we can have a well-developed, eco-friendly product,” he said. “Without the CVRD’s help, we’ll have a good product, but it’ll still need finishing with future funding.”
Directors, meanwhile, anticipate a lengthy debate at Wednesday’s meeting.
“From the point of view of Area B, I’ll be looking at the cost benefit — what it would do to enhance the economic base of Shawnigan Lake against what it would cost,” Director Bruce Fraser said. “It’s a big ask and we have to look at it extremely closely because I think people throughout the region are wary of tax increases. I want to listen to every director carefully, and then make up my mind.”
As for Dhami, who’s sat through several CVRD debates on the topic, he just wants an answer — either way.
“The directors wanted the time to think this over, and I believe they’ve had that time,” he said. “I’ll just appreciate them making a decision, one way or the other.”
The special board meeting happens Feb. 22 at 1 p.m. in the CVRD board room.
Financial impact for taxpayers
– Funding just the $609,000 grant-in-aid request in 2012: $3.90 per $100,000 of assessed residential value
– Funding just the $609,000 grant-in-aid request over five years: $.80 per $100,000 of assessed residential value
– Funding the central hub plus gateway initiatives ($1,059,000) over five years: $1.39 per $100,000 of assessed residential value