The Yukon’s Tourism minister is keen to fill a void left by the closing of the old convention centre.
In a Sept. 20 interview, Ranj Pillai said Whitehorse could be home to a new convention centre with seating capacity for 750 people in two to three years.
“We’re extremely bullish on getting this done,” he said.
Pillai said the tourism industry in the territory needs two things to grow: more hotel rooms and a proper venue with seating for 750 or more people. He said there is currently no budget for a new convention centre — the territorial government is just “blue skying” the opportunities and options right now.
That’s why the department of Tourism and Culture has put out a request for available land.
The department is seeking information from interested parties who have land available in the city that would be fitting as the site for a new convention centre. The parties must be potentially interested in selling or leasing the land or making it available through direct development or redevelopment.
The parcel of land will be part of the traditional territory of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwächän Council.
But it’s about more than land, Pillai said.
He said the Yukon government is seeking out parties that would build out a new space or help the government figure out what would be the best asset to build, potentially by looking at partnerships with government and across groups to get it done.
Nine plan takers have put their bids forward, including the Yukon Arts Centre and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, as of Sept. 20.
The existing Yukon Convention Centre on 4th Avenue has been temporarily closed, according to Google, although the Yukon government said Sept. 21 by email that it remains open. The owners, Northern Vision Development LP, have provided the space for the Yukon government to use as a vaccination clinic. The department of Health and Social Services has leased the space until March 31, 2023, with an option to extend the lease for another year. Pillai said it is not being used for large functions, which has left a hole for the industry.
Pillai said he recently discussed the need for a new convention centre with Randy Boissonnault, the federal tourism minister, and local leaders in the tourism industry.
“During that conversation, it was highlighted by industry, as well, that this is something that’s extremely important to their industry, and that we need to come up with an appropriate solution quickly, and we need to take a look at building out a new center,” he said.
Neil Hartling, the chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, said a new centre is long overdue.
“The territory is growing and we’re underfit,” Hartling said.
Hartling said none of the existing facilities in the city are adequate for holding conventions for various reasons. For example, he said, the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre has placed limits on availability for outside groups.
He sees a new centre as a win-win for the sector and the community to bring in more business, particularly during the fall, winter and spring seasons in the conference sector.
Hartling said the new space will need to be fitted with a large meeting area plus rooms for breakout sessions and a place to cater.
“It’s a deficit right now to not have that and we’re turning business away,” he said.
This request will not immediately translate into a procurement process, according to the expression of interest. The Yukon government may use the information to build a portfolio of potential sites.
The bid closing date is Oct. 14.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com