Whitehorse is seen on Feb. 14. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

Whitehorse is seen on Feb. 14. (Lawrie Crawford/Yukon News)

New Whitehorse convention centre could bring back business that Yukon is turning away

A request for proposals has been issued for the development of a new convention centre in Whitehorse

Bids are open for the creation of a new convention centre with capacity for up to 1,000 attendees in Whitehorse.

The Yukon Convention Bureau Society and the Yukon government put out a request to solicit proposals from proponents that own or control land in the Whitehorse area and are interested in designing, building, owning, maintaining and operating a new convention centre, according to the description in the request for proposal.

Ranj Pillai, who is now premier, previously told the News the Yukon government is “extremely bullish” on getting this done.

Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker spoke about the development project during a ministerial statement on March 13.

He told the Yukon Legislative Assembly the territory is turning away business due to a gap in convention infrastructure.

“We have reached a point where demand exceeds supply, particularly in Whitehorse. Our industry stakeholders have told us that there is an immediate need for modern, purpose-built and multi-use space for the Yukon’s growing events and conferences market,” he said.

“We have also heard about all the ways in which COVID-19 has altered how we think about gathering. As our tourism sector continues to rebound from the impacts of the pandemic, there is a clear need for modern, accessible and safe event spaces.”

Streicker said conventions, conferences and other meetings are “strong economic drivers” that attract tourists year-round and contribute to spending in local economies.

“We estimate that a new, centrally located Whitehorse facility, with twice the capacity of our former venue, could double the direct economic impact of convention business,” he said.

“As a government, our role is to help create infrastructure today that will help build a strong and prosperous tomorrow.”

The opposition parties expressed excitement about the announcement, although they had questions about location, financing and the ownership model.

“It has been clear for some time that the Yukon is sorely in need of a new convention centre and space to host larger events,” said Geraldine Van Bibber, the Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek North.

Yukon NDP MLA for Whitehorse Centre Emily Tredger was relieved to hear the convention centre will not be built at the site of École Whitehorse Elementary School.

“We certainly support the idea of a new convention centre,” she said.

“It would add to tourism dollars and help many service industry businesses in the shoulder seasons, but I do hope that it is not being prioritized over a downtown school.”

Following question period, Streicker told reporters in the cabinet office things like the specific location and financing are built into how the request for proposals unfolds.

Streicker said it’s possible the winning bid isn’t looking for government funding. He wouldn’t say how much the Yukon government will be willing to put forward because “it depends on what we get as part of the package.”

“That’s why it doesn’t sit in our capital budget as of yet,” he said.

Two possible locations that came forward from the expression of interest are around the waterfront and beside the Yukon Arts Centre.

A bid committee will evaluate the proposals that come forward as part of this latest process.

The bid closes on July 14.

READ MORE: Yukon government seeking available land for new convention centre

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com