Council declines to support motion on Welcome Centre building lease

Welcome Centre in Little Current. Photo by Warren Schlote

CENTRAL MANITOULIN – A recommendation from the Central Manitoulin Property Committee that council supports the Manitoulin Welcome Centre RFP as submitted by Linda and Michael Erskine failed to gain support from council.

The building in question is located at 70 Robinson Street East, just before the Little Current swing bridge and is owned by the Northeast Town.

The motion was moved by Councillor Al Tribinevicius and seconded by Councillor Dale Scott.

“I wonder why we as a council have to support this?” said Councillor Derek Stephens as he opened the debate on the motion. “I think now that the MTA (Manitoulin Tourism Association, now Destination Manitoulin Island) is gone that the municipality doesn’t have anything to do with it anymore.”

Councillor Stephens put forward that since the MTA has vacated the building, the reason the municipality originally entered into the building management agreement has come to an end. “The original 1990 agreement is null and void,” he suggested.

Councillor Scott disagreed, noting that the proposed lease agreement includes the requirement for the lessees to provide tourism information to travellers. “It can be available for every business on the Island,” he pointed out. “If you are not part of the management group you can put in $50 and put your information in there as well. This location is where the tourist hits the road,” said Councillor Scott. “I am really happy we have a provider that will operate the centre.”

Councillor Scott pointed out that with the new private-public partnership for the space, the municipality’s portion of the building upkeep has dropped from $6,900 to less than a quarter of that amount.

Councillor Stephens noted that the condition that businesses whose municipalities are not part of the management committee can participate by paying a fee was something the MTA had always wanted to be able to do, “but they were always told no, they can’t.”

Councillor Stephens pointed out that the MTA (now officially known as Destination Manitoulin Island) “will go on, it will prosper.”

“I don’t think that is an issue in the matter before us,” said Mayor Richard Stephens. “When it comes to the information centre RFP we can make a decision.”

Councillor Stephens, a member of the Destination Manitoulin Island board, countered that the MTA is partnering with First Nations. “That is something we were never allowed to do before either,” he said.

Councillor Rose Diebolt questioned why the municipality was paying $7,000 towards the building operations in the first place.

CAO Ruth Frawley noted that it was to help with the upkeep of the building where tourism information was provided to the travelling public.

Councillor Diebolt asked when the municipality pays for that upkeep and was it in the current budget. “Do we have to?” she asked.

“We can get out of it,” replied Ms. Frawley.

Councillor Diebolt asked if the municipality could withdraw for a year and observe how things will operate.

Ms. Frawley replied that she was not certain that “you can just get back in.”

“This is the place where tourists first step onto the Island,” said Mayor Stephens, suggesting that enabling Central Manitoulin businesses to have a place in that location to advertise information about their products was something that he supports.

In the end the motion failed to gain enough votes to pass.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The author of this article is one of the proponents of an offer to lease that portion of the Welcome Centre building formerly occupied by the Manitoulin Tourism Association.