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Visitor Centre looks to city for help in funding expanded service

The Nelson Visitor Information Centre (VIC) welcomed almost 21,000 visitors to Nelson through its doors. — The Nelson Daily file photo

For the first time in 13 years Nelson’s top tourism gateway is asking for a funding bump from the city.

The Nelson Visitor Information Centre (VIC) — operated by the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce in the heritage CP Rail station at the end of Baker Street — has asked for a three per cent hike to its fee-for-service from the City of Nelson for 2019, the last rise coming in 2007.

Chamber president Michael Borch said the organization has been subsidizing the delivery of the service for several years as it has expanded, yet finances for it have shrank.

The centre is now running at a deficit of nearly $29,000, with operating income of $122,273 not covering the operating expenses of $151,084, including 2.5 full-time staff wages and benefits, three season visitor centre counselors, municipal taxes, utilities, building and property maintenance and outbound marketing.

“The chamber has been very effective in introducing operating cost efficiencies and reducing expenses, however rising costs in taxation, utilities and other business operating expenses are outside of our control,” he noted in a letter written to council.

Even so, with inflation costs and other financial pressures factored in the chamber has managed to operate the visitor centre for the same fee-for-service amount since 2007. That has to change, Borch explained.

He asked the city to work with the chamber’s board of directors to develop mitigation strategies to deal with the rising expenses.

“(O)r as an alternative, providing a three per cent inflationary increase to the annual fee-for-service contract,” he said, adding that the chamber was still looking to develop a long-term contractual agreement with the city and regional partners “that reflect the true value of the visitor centre service.”

The chamber receives $76,000 annually from the city to operate the centre over 2,500 hours of operation (around $31.30 per hour of operation in 2018).

City council will deliberate on the request over the next few weeks as it compiles the laundry list of items it will be funding for the new fiscal year, including how much each item will receive.

Several city groups are asked to present their 2019 budget — such as the VIC — and state their case for a potential funding bump.

Last year was the third year the visitor centre has been in the heritage train station at the end of Baker Street, but work still continued on the century-old structure.

Work has continued on the west end of the main floor, with the Nelson Innovation Centre expected to occupy the space. As well, the design for a plaza on the property will be put in as chamber “finances permit,” complete with lighting, bike racks, landscaping and benches.

Wildfires affected the number of visitors to the area again in 2018, although the number of visitors was up over 2017, when fires raged wider and longer in the region. In 2018 the

VIC welcomed almost 21,000 visitors through its doors — still down from the over 23,000 that came through in 2016.

The bulk of the visitors remained from the region (47 per cent), while 21 per cent were from across B.C. Europeans (eight per cent) made up the next biggest demographic, with Albertans (seven per cent), Washington (five per cent) and the rest of Canada (five per cent) rounding out the roster.

Nelson Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tom Thomson also noted that the centre continued to expand weekend hours to provide more services during the shoulder seasons, with 200 additional hours added.

The VIC also now features an electronic kiosk in order to provide after-hours service in a “cost effective manner” in 2018.