Wrong impression

Columnist Richard Rolke touches on Vernon relocating tourism information services

First impressions are everything. They can make or break you.

That’s why questions are naturally arising over the City of Vernon’s decision to relocate tourism information services to an old building on 39th Avenue, next to Civic Arena.

First off, Coun. Bob Spiers was right to raise concerns about having tourists turning left off 32nd Street (the highway) so they can get on to 39th Avenue and go down to the visitor information service to get directions or use the washroom.

“The location will cause problems,” said Spiers.

And while Spiers doesn’t drive, everyone and their dog knows the challenges that come with trying to turn off the highway when there isn’t a left-turn signal. Not only do you back up the vehicles behind you, but in an attempt to maneuver, risks are taken during those brief breaks in oncoming traffic. Consider that many tourists are driving massive RVs, with some pulling a car behind them. It could be a recipe for diaster.

Of course this is a problem visitor information centre staff are familiar with as one of the biggest complaints about the south booth, by the army camp, was southbound tourists having to risk their lives to get across the northbound lanes. Crashes and near-misses were common there.

Now once tourists get off the highway and are headed along 39th Avenue, they will be greeted by a neighbourhood in transition.

It’s one of the older parts of town and many of the buildings are in various stages of condition. There is also a mix of industrial uses and of course, there is Civic Arena and a giant gravel parking lot.

City officials insist that redevelopment of the Civic Arena site into a park is a long-term goal. But a lot of that hinges on Greater Vernon residents possibly voting next year to borrow funds for a new ice sheet elsewhere in the city. What happens if they turn the concept down? What will that mean for the ancient Civic Arena and beautifying the area for visitors?

Now in terms of the structure to be used for the visitor information centre, the positive is that it’s already owned by the city. But on the negative, $292,215 will go into upgrades, and anyone who has renovated an old house will tell you, no matter how much you spend, you still have an old building.

Also, while the property is near some motels and restaurants, it is a bit of a hike for anyone wanting to park their RV and walk downtown or to shopping at the north end.

City officials insist they did an exhaustive site search, but were other options for a visitor information centre investigated thoroughly?

One that comes to mind is the  city’s Coldstream Hotel parking lot downtown. It is just a block away from main street shops and restaurants, as well as parks, cultural amenities and heritage murals. There are a number of easy and safe access points off the highway and there is sufficient space for RV parking and the Greyhound depot is across the street.

What it would take is to install a pre-fabricated building on site that meets the space requirements for staff while being presentable and welcoming for visitors. Yes, there would be a cost to purchasing or leasing a portable, but how would that compare to the renos going into the 39th Avenue property (and also factoring in the $70,000 a year that will be saved by centralizing tourim services)?

The city keeps waiting for a developer to snap up the Coldstream Hotel site for commercial/residential uses but that hasn’t happened yet, and may never.

But while the long wait continues, tourists will put themselves in jeopardy to pick up a map or brochure next to the less-than-attractive Civic Arena.

One of the first things people learn in the tourism trade is first impressions are critical.