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Layoffs follow visitors centre closure

Kyle Thomas, president of the Northern Frontier Visitors Association, says he's at the end of his rope dealing with relocation of the visitors centre.
Shane Magee/NNSL photo

A ringing phone cuts through the silence in the Northern Frontier Visitors' Centre. Occasionally someone yanks the locked door. There's no one there to answer the phones, no one to tell tourists where to find a good meal or about nearby attractions.
The doors of the centre near Frame Lake were locked Monday and two of the full-time staff laid off. Others had the day off as stress mounts over what comes next.
The territorial government offered space for a desk with two seats in the lobby of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, although the Northern Frontier Visitors Association board has not yet made a decision.
Kyle Thomas, president of the association, said the offer will likely be accepted.
“As of right now we don't have a choice,” Thomas said in an interview at the centre Tuesday afternoon.
The centre closed after an engineer limited public use of much of the building due to structural damage and told it to have contents removed by Monday. The centre's Facebook page is prompting a “big garage sale” this weekend with photos of items and furniture.
Thomas said they're still trying to figure out what needs to be sold off – such as mounted caribou heads that grace the lofty main space.
“We don't know where we're going to be, we don’t know if it's going to exist,” Thomas said. “We're kind of up in the air as to what to sell because we don’t' know what – if anything – will be needed in the future.”
The centre offered visitors information about the city and territory as well as sold merchandise such as indigenous art. It saw 50,000 people come through its doors last year.
For now, tourists have been told to call city hall for visitor information.
On Tuesday, the city announced it would provide the association $17,000 in funds to cover relocation costs scraped from the city's 2017 budget.
The move didn't require a motion by council approving the spending but was supported by city council, city spokesperson Nalini Naidoo stated in an e-mail.
“I think it's a great gesture,” Thomas said about the added funds, adding the city taking calls and other aspects of the centre's normal work has been appreciated.
Last year, the city contributed $86,723 to the centre through a three-year funding agreement that expires this year. Mayor Mark Heyck said a lot of things still need to be determined when asked if the city is considering further help for the association.
“We can re-examine our funding commitment in future years,” Heyck said.
The museum is expected to be a short-term solution.
Much of the association's revenue came from merchandise sales and renting the building – $1.09 million last year. It received $161,000 from the GNWT and $86,723 from the city, according to its 2016 financial statements. Its expenses for the year were $1.5 million.
The museum likely wouldn't include merchandise sales. The association's shop at the airport is self-sustaining, Thomas said. But it's not enough to continue the level of services they offered at the downtown location.
Thomas said the association should be able to survive financially through the summer if it is at the museum.
For more than a day, Thomas believed the association would be charged around $1,000 per month to rent the museum space by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, which operates the facility. The association initially thought the museum space would be free but was told Monday it would have to pay rent.
On Tuesday afternoon, Thomas said the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment told him it was a miscommunication and that the department would cover costs such as Internet and phone lines.
Drew Williams, an Industry, Tourism and Investment, spokesperson said the intent is not to charge rent, although an agreement is still being drafted. Thomas said that may take up to a week, leaving a gap in service for tourists.
The association president said he's tired of meeting after meeting trying to find a solution with two levels of government, although added he understands it can be tough to find money in tight budgets.
“I'm not going to continue sitting in meetings talking about it because I can't,” Thomas said. “I'm at the end of my rope with this. At this point I would hope our numbers, our reputations would speak for themselves but that doesn't seem to be to clear for some so I'll just let it go,” he said, trailing off.

The Northern Frontier Visitors' Centre was permanently closed Monday and the building will likely be demolished in the future.
Shane Magee/NNSL photo