Tourism office's fate is uncertain

Tourism office's fate is uncertain

While one group is fighting to save Brockville’s tourism building from the wrecking ball, its current occupants want to make sure they have somewhere to go should the order to demolish proceed.

As councillors this week received a report outlining options for a future tourism office, Brockville tourism manager Katherine Hobbs urged them to take advantage of one of the options in that report.

Speaking to council’s economic development and planning committee Tuesday, Hobbs said the space at the lower level of the Scotiabank building, just up the block from the current tourism office, would be an ideal location.

“We’re concerned about a loss of opportunity,” said Hobbs, wondering how long the space, a former hair salon, would be available.

“We’re also concerned about having an interruption of tourism services,” she told the committee.

“If we wait until it’s down to the crunch, we may lose an ideal location.”

Brockville tourism manager Katherine Hobbs speaks to city council’s economic development and planning committee on Tuesday. (RONALD ZAJAC/The Recorder and Times)

The site up the street would be ideal for the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce’s tourism providers because it would remain close to Blockhouse Island, where the summer students under their supervision work, said Hobbs.

But at the same planning meeting, Hobbs also asked for and received a recommendation to allow tourism staff to place an electronic message board on the north wall of the existing building.

She said Wednesday her comments at the meeting had to do with uncertainty over the future of the existing location at 10 Market Street West, which is slated to be torn down.

The current tourist office is one of the oldest buildings in Brockville, but city officials want it removed to make way for an eventual development in the block along Water Street between Broad Street and Market West, a project most recently known as Blockhouse Square.

Last fall, councillors received a report on a plan to relocate the tourism office across the street to city hall. The plan would see the tourism office take over the space now occupied by the Brockville and District Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Improvement Association (DBIA) at the back of city hall. 

Staff estimated the move would cost $383,000 to renovate the offices and build accessible washrooms. 

The follow-up report provides a number of different options, including, among others, different scenarios for moving tourism to city hall; requesting space within the eventual Blockhouse Square development; and purchasing the Wayfare sales office and relocating it to the vicinity of city hall.

While the space in the Scotiabank building is strategically located, Hobbs acknowledged Tuesday the plan would require the tourism office to occupy the site rent-free, perhaps as a temporary measure, an arrangement that is far from guaranteed.

City officials continue to rule out renovating the existing tourism office because the cost would be “oppressive” and “the intention is to remove all of the city-owned assets on Water and Market to allow for a new development at some time in the future.”

Nonetheless, a group of citizens has since formed dedicated to preserving the building housing the current tourism office.

They have started a Facebook page called Saving the Black-Earle Double House, 8 & 10 West Market St.

The Facebook group, which had 217 members as of Wednesday afternoon, states its mission is “to point out and gain public support for rehabilitating this city-owned heritage building for the future use as an expanded ‘Visitor Information Centre.’”

The building is not currently designated as a heritage property.

Retired senator Bob Runciman, one of the people behind the citizens’ group, once lived in one of the buildings adjacent to the site, facing Water Street.

He said Wednesday the group would like council to change its thinking about the old building, so that preserving it becomes part of the discussion with any developer.

While the group does not want to add to taxpayers’ burden or tie city council’s hands, “it’s certainly something that should be raised with any potential developer,” said Runciman.