City's tourism centre to go on the block

Brantford will sell its visitor and tourism centre. photo Expositor file photo

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The city plans to put its visitor and tourism centre up for sale in an effort to dispose of vacant and under-used property.

The tourism centre on Wayne Gretzky Parkway is one of four major properties the city plans to sell. The others are: the former Canadian Order of Foresters building at 84 Market St.; a now empty lot where the former main fire hall was located Greenwich Street; and a vacant lot next to the downtown Laurier Brantford YMCA.

Mayor Kevin Davis said there is “substantial value” in the properties, which will be sold at market value.

“The money will be used to fund other capital projects, which are more important to the city than unused vacant properties.”

Davis said council is making decisions on which properties to sell in conjunction with a review of its 10-year capital plan. The city’s 2020-28 capital forecast includes projects valued at $854 million.

The city spent $2.4 million to construct the tourism centre, which opened in 2002. The city owned 14 acres of land, just north of Highway 403, on the southern edge of Lynden Park Mall.

In 2000, it made a deal with the mall’s then owner, Cambridge Shopping Centres. The city sold 11 of 14 acres to the mall’s owner for $2.4 million and kept three acres as the site for the tourism centre. In return, the city bought the downtown Holstein building from Cambridge Shopping Centres for $2 million. The city’s profit of $400,000 paid for drainage work for the tourism centre.

Davis said listing the centre for sale was supported unanimously by councillors. City staff will prepare a report on how to proceed with the sale, said the mayor, and what kind of visitor and tourism services there will be in the future.

He said the sale likely will happen in the fall of 2020 when the new city hall opens in the former Federal Building on downtown Dalhousie Street.

Four economic development staff members who have been working out of the tourism centre will move to the new city hall. There are six full-time tourism staff members.

“It’s too much of a building,” said Davis of the 10,000-square-foot centre. “At the time it was built I think the building was intended to make a statement about the city.

“It has never been quite fully utilized. It sits half-empty.”

Davis said the cost to maintain the building, which has a large public reception area and meeting room and offices at the back, is $100,000 a year for expenses including heat and hydro.

There are also issues with the location of the centre, said the mayor. To get to the building requires driving a circuitous route through the mall parking lot.

“It doesn’t get heavy traffic,” said Davis. “Part of the reason for that is the location. It’s hard to get to. For tourists, you’ve got to make it dead simple for them.”

In 2018, just over 10,500 visitors signed into the tourism centre. That number is down from about 10,950 in 2017 and 12,250 in 2016.

Davis said large displays in the centre’s reception area, which promote various tourism sectors, such as entertainment, museums and galleries, sports, adventure, and eco-tourism, are looking tired and faded from the sunlight that comes in through the large glass windows, which provide a panoramic view.

“They were modern 10 years ago, but some are looking dated. The tourism area would need a serious upgrade and retrofit.”

City staff movement to new locations is also behind a move to sell the Canadian Order of Foresters building, which was built in 1950 and has been home to Brantford Power employees. The electricity provider is consolidating its operations in the former Wescast building on Savannah Oaks Drive at a cost of about $23 million.

The city’s information technology department also has been working out of space in the Market Street building and those employees will move into the new city hall.

City staff will be preparing a request for proposals for development of the vacant lot west of the Y. But Davis said they will be looking for a distinctive development on the property that is the “western gateway for the downtown.”

“We don’t want any old building there. We want someone who will make good use of it.”

The mayor said archeological studies will be required on the property. Archeological work, which unearthed about 400,000 artifacts, caused an 18-month delay in construction of the YMCA project and added about $8 million to the cost of the building, which opened in September 2018.

Davis said retrofitting work on the new city hall is underway and on track for completion in early fall of 2020 at a cost of about $25.4 million.

The new city hall will bring together several municipal departments now scattered in various buildings. Plans also call for the city’s social services department, now located in Market Square, to move into the current city hall on Wellington Street after it is renovated.

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