$1.15M new visitor centre a testament to partnerships

The wild shirts and widebrimmed hats of tourists looking for brochures took a backseat Friday to the suits and ties of area business people, builders and dignitaries who poured into the Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre for its grand opening.

Less than one year after shovels broke ground, the stunning $1.15-million facility quietly opened its doors last month and has seen nothing but success thus far.

Friday’s invitation-only event featuring local food and wine was a thank you to more than 150 guests who helped make the project happen in one form or another – not just on time, but on budget.

"The process to get from the ground breaking to today’s opening was an easy process for some of us and harder for others, Duncan-Cowichan Chamber President George Gates said. "It seems like a very little amount of time and effort considering the 12 years it took to get to the groundbreaking 11 months ago."

Among those Gates recognized for their contributions were the chamber’s past and current board members and presidents for their vision more than a decade ago, the folks at Kinetic Construction, the region’s various chambers of commerce that worked together, and project manager Dave Conway of the Municipality of North Cowichan.

Also lauded for their efforts were representatives of funding partners from the Island Coastal Economic Trust ($666,500), North Cowichan ($325,000), City of Duncan ($50,000), and Cowichan Valley Regional District ($443,000). The Duncan-Cowichan Chamber of Commerce also raised $400,000 for the project.

"It’s just fantastic to see it come together the way it has now," North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure said. "It’s a true testament to a lot of partnerships, a lot of hard work, a lot of cooperation. It’s just amazing."

Tourism and Small Business Minister, Naomi Yamamoto, and Don McRae, Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation were on hand as well, as the provincial government (and the feds) were responsible for upwards of $200,000 in gas tax funding distributed through Duncan and the CVRD.

"We were driving up the highway and it just hits you and I’m hoping that same feeling overtakes all these visitors that are coming to Vancouver Island and to visit your community," Yamamoto said. "You have it all in this area."

McRae hoped the centre would help tell the story of the Cowichan Valley.

"You have a great story to tell and we need to celebrate it," McRae said. "As I look around this building, the facility and the displays, you’re going to remind not just visitors but people who live in this community of the great story that the Cowichan Valley has to say."

Gates said work on the site continues despite the visitor centre construction being complete. Up next are $849,500 worth of infrastructure upgrades to the B.C. Forest Discovery Centre including new egress and ingress lanes, sewage and lot drainage and parking lot reconfiguration.

"I think it’s fantastic and, as George said, when it’s all done, and how it fits together with the Forest Discovery Centre, it will be a real contribution to both the organizations and to our Valley and region generally," said Duncan Mayor Phil Kent. "I just want to honestly thank everyone who had something to do with this."