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Tourism hub shuttered after Northern Frontier Visitors' Centre found unsafe

The Northern Frontier Visitors Centre has served as a tourism hub for the city but structural issues have led to broken windows, cracked walls and sections of the building closing. Now the association that owns it. Shane Magee/NNSL photo
The Northern Frontier Visitors Centre closed Wednesday after an inspection by a structural engineer found the building had deteriorated leaving much of the building unsafe for use.
Shane Magee/NNSL photo

An engineer deemed more of the Northern Frontier Visitors' Centre unsafe this week, prompting the building to close for more than a day.

The popular tourism hub near Frame Lake closed 5 p.m. on Tuesday and didn't reopen Wednesday.

“The engineer has defined an even smaller space at the very front of the building that can be used for public access until May 15, which is our closing date,” said Kyle Thomas, president of the Northern Frontier Visitors' Association that owns and operates the centre.

To make that space ready – by putting up barriers blocking access to areas deemed unsafe – the visitors centre had to close. It was also in the process of moving merchandise to its airport shop.

Retail sales and rental of office and boardroom space in the building had provided much of the revenue keeping the centre financially afloat.

Thomas hoped it could reopen sometime May 11 and remain open until May 15. The association has approached city and territorial governments seeking help to move to a temporary location after its building closes.

While politicians have voiced support, Thomas said they've received no guarantees.

“We're still waiting," he said Wednesday afternoon. "We've been answering questions they've had but we've not seen any official commitment or response to our requests."

He said the upheaval has been tough on staff.

On the morning of May 11, a post on the association's Facebook page stated it still had no guarantees from the city or GNWT about relocating the centre to a temporary venue, “nor the funds we will require to avoid bankruptcy.”

The association has requested millions of dollars over several years in public funds for a temporary location, operational costs and funds to cover demolition of its existing centre.

The centre that welcomed more than 50,000 people last year has been rapidly deteriorating because of frost heaving. The issues have become pronounced in recent years, requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars of repairs that the association has been told would only be a temporary fix.

Four of the city's MLAs that are not in cabinet have called on cabinet to financially support moving the centre to a temporary location and covering its costs while in that location.
Where that could be has not yet been determined.

At the association's annual general meeting last week, its membership passed a resolution calling for the GNWT and city to cover relocation costs, operations costs for a temporary location for up to two years and the establishment of a new tourism centre that's government-owned within two years.

Most visitor centres in the territory are owned or operated by governments, not non-profit groups.

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment has stated it intends to help the centre but by May 11, little was confirmed.

Drew Williams, a spokesperson for the department, stated in an e-mail the association had pointed to several possible temporary locations.

“We believe that there may be additional options and solutions that we can bring to the table,” Williams stated. “(The department) is working with the City of Yellowknife to identify and flesh out these options. Once a solution is identified, we will see it through.”

In an e-mailed statement, Industry, Tourism and Investment Minister Wally Schumann stated the GNWT is “working with the Northern Frontier VisitorsAssociation and the City of Yellowknife to find a viable and economically-sustainable way and place for this service to be continued in the short- and long-term.

Yellowknifer asked all eight city councillors the degree to which they'd be prepared to provide the visitors centre funding and whether they would support covering some of the costs of building a new centre in the future.

Coun. Linda Bussey stated it's too soon to say what the level of financial commitment should be.

“This is a significant (issue) which requires more consideration and discussion with key partners,” she stated in an e-mail. “I can say that I think the city and the GNWT should be supporting the visitors centre, either by direct funding or through in-kind support.”

Coun. Adrian Bell stated the city needs to review its options.

"If it turns out that it is in fact the city's responsibility to fund the construction of visitors' centres, then of course I would support a city contribution to a new building," he stated.

No other councillors responded by press time.