It will be the tourist information centre of the future.
It will be constructed of glass and wood on a downtown waterfront plaza.
And it will be an attractive and interactive place where visitors to Kelowna will be convinced to spend more time and money in the city.
“Highway locations for visitor centres are in rapid decline,” said Tourism Kelowna CEO Nancy Cameron at a news conference Thursday announcing the new $3.5-million Kelowna Visitor’s Centre at the foot of Queensway Avenue.
“Tourists now drop in to visitor centres they come across while wandering vibrant downtowns.”
As such, Tourism Kelowna wants to shutter the 35-year-old visitor centre located in the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce building on Highway 97 at the corner of Ellis Street and build a new one on the site of a parking lot at Queensway Avenue and Mill Street.
Mill Street is scheduled to close once construction starts on the adjacent highrise hotel, and the base of Queensway will become a plaza with lakeside boardwalk connecting Stuart and Kerry parks.
Currently, 440,000 people a year use the crosswalk in front of the parking lot linking Stuart and Kerry parks.
That number will soar with the revitalization of the area.
If all goes according to plan, the tourism agency will lease the land from the city, get it rezoned and start construction as soon as possible for opening in summer 2017.
Before people had GPS in their cars and all information at their fingertips on their smartphones, traditional tourist information centres were a real touchstone.
One of the first things tourists did upon arriving in a community was to drop in to the visitor centre and pick up a map, get directions, hotel recommendations and suggestions on what to do.
Nowadays, GPS and Google Maps on the smartphone give directions, hotel reservations are already made and most activities are pre-determined, from wine tours, golfing or skiing to dining, shopping and time at the lake.
Where the new-generation visitor centre comes in is as a showpiece resource in pedestrian-heavy downtowns where tourists are sightseeing.
With prime locations and stunning architecture, these centres draw people in to get ideas on what more there is to do in the city.
For example, Cameron said some parents may want to go on a wine tour, but their teenage kids don’t want to be dragged along.
A swing through the visitor centre can give the parents some ideas for winery visits and let the teens know there are beach volleyball courts at City Park.
Or, a family with young kids may discover there’s a kangaroo farm here they can drop by to hold baby ’roos.
Kelowna is actually behind the curve in the visitor centre move from the highway to downtown.
It’s already happened in 78 per cent of North American cities, including Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Portland, Seattle and Toronto.
At its pre-Internet and pre-GPS peak, the Kelowna Visitor’s Centre on the highway served about 50,000 visiting parties per year.
That’s now down to around 20,000.
The new centre downtown is expected to attract 75,000 to 100,000 visiting parties.
Kelowna sees about 1.5 million tourists a year, who generate about $650 million in economic impact.
Tourism Kelowna will borrow $2.5 million of the $3.5 million development cost and cover the final $1 million with grants from various levels of government and partnerships.
Tourism Kelowna’s annual budget is $2.9 million to market the city as a tourist, convention and sports event destination.
Sixty-five per cent of the total comes from the two per cent tax added to the price of all hotel rooms in the city, and the rest comes from program fees 300 tourism businesses pay and some small grants from senior governments.