The city’s tourist information centre may close by May 15 due to safety concerns, according to a document obtained by Yellowknifer.
The Northern Frontier Visitors Centre last year saw more than 50,000 people come through its doors. But those doors are on shaky ground.
Years of structural issues due to frost heaving have damaged windows, walls and closed sections of the building.
“The building is rapidly deteriorating,” states a Northern Frontier Visitors Association slideshow obtained by Yellowknifer.
It states repairs would be costly and temporary.
“Time is of the essence, since the current building is becoming increasingly unsafe for any type of occupancy, especially through spring thaw,” states the slideshow dated April 26. “(It) must be vacated within the next two weeks.”
Kevin Brezinski, the director of public safety for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said the fire marshal’s office has recommended limiting occupancy of parts of the building, recommendations which have been followed.
The association owns the two-storey visitors centre on leased land near the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.
An announcement was expected Thursday evening at the association’s annual general meeting, which occurred after press time.
Kyle Thomas, the president of the association, declined to comment before the meeting.
The slideshow indicates the association wants to move to a temporary location after closing its current building, which would be demolished.
It may need $565,000 to $690,000 annually in public funds to cover the cost of the temporary location.
The slideshow also lays out three options for constructing a new visitors centre at a cost of $2 to $5.25 million that would be owned by government and operated by the association.
The options outlined are a new, 500-square metre facility – smaller than the current 640 square metres – at a cost of $2 to $3 million north of the current site, an 800-square metre centre at a cost of $3 to $4.5 million east of current location, and a new 1,000-square metre centre at a cost of $3.77 to $5.25 million east of the current site. A final option would be to close the visitors centre, demolish the building and disband the association.
A new structure, the slideshow notes, would have space set aside for a Yellowknife destination marketing organization. The City of Yellowknife has received funding from the federal government to start an organization to promote the city as a tourism and conference destination.
The association presented the options to officials with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment, Mayor Mark Heyck and others recently, according to department spokesperson Drew Williams. Williams said both the city and department are preparing to respond.
In an e-mailed statement, the mayor said the city is working with the GNWT and the association on short-term solutions, including finding other potential spaces.
Heyck stated money will continue to flow to the centre through a funding agreement with the city to help with transition and operational costs at a new location.
No funding commitments have been made to the association by the GNWT, Williams said.
“We recognize that it’s a popular centre,” Williams said, adding the biggest commitment so far is that the department is on-board with trying to find solutions such as a temporary location.
The association is largely self-funded, although it +does receive some funding from territorial and city governments.
MLAs have been told of the situation.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly, who represents the area the centre is located, declined to comment before the association’s meeting.
“This is a crisis that is a long-time coming,” said Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green.
Yellowknife North Cory Vanthuyne echoed Green and said the visitors centre is vital to the tourism industry in the city.
“We can’t not have it, that would cause a lot of disruption,” Vanthuyne said.
Green said the focus needs to be on finding a temporary location.
“Both the city and the territorial government need to financially support the relocation and reopening of the visitors centre,” and then talk about whether to build a new facility, she said.
There were more than 50,000 people who went to the visitors centre last year, up 400 per cent from 2007, as tourism in the city has boomed.
Last year, the centre received $75,000 from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) to study whether the building’s structural issues can be repaired or whether a new building is needed.
Five years ago, the centre received more than $400,000 from CanNor and the GNWT to repair the structural issues and reduce energy consumption.
The Northern Frontier Visitors Centre is the only non-government run visitors centre in the territory.