Tourist centre won't open until April 1

THE INTERIOR of the new visitor centre has an orca component and an abbreviated model of a kayak, modelled below by Clarice Coty. - Scott Stanfield
THE INTERIOR of the new visitor centre has an orca component and an abbreviated model of a kayak, modelled below by Clarice Coty.
— image credit: Scott Stanfield

The Vancouver Island Visitor Centre — that wooden, drum-shaped building with the green roof at the highway interchange — is scheduled to open April 1.

"We'll sure open early if we're ready to go but we want to make sure all the systems in the building work," said John Watson, economic development officer at the Comox Valley Economic Development Society. "There's lots of things to the building that are sustainable: the green roof, the car-charging station. There's numerous things that we want to make sure are running properly."

Last year the federal government committed $3 million to the centre. The Province contributed operating funds and, through the Island Coastal Economic Trust, another $745,000. Trilogy Properties Corp. donated the land. The centre is part of Trilogy's mixed-use development dubbed CAYET.

Valemount-based Adventure Management Ltd. has been contracted to operate the 7,000-plus-square-foot centre, located at Small Road in Cumberland at the interchange of the Inland Island Highway and the Comox Valley Parkway.

The name morphed from its original moniker, the Vancouver Island and Coast Discovery Centre, to represent the entire region, though 'Comox Valley' appears on the wood drum facing the highway and below the title at the front of the concrete building.

"We wanted to make sure people knew as they came off the highway that they're in the Comox Valley," Watson said. "It's not often we get Comox Valley signage on the highway."

The centre is intended to help drive tourism in the north central Island and coastal regions, and to showcase regional industries. It will also support and promote First Nations with an emphasis on the K'ómoks First Nation.

The parking lot includes an archway by Randy Frank, 30 to 40 parking spots, an electric car-charging station, five bus parking spots and a transit stop.

"Eventually we hope to see public transit here," Watson said.

Inside the building is a visitor service/sales centre and an exhibit hall that features a touch table akin to a giant iPad. Exhibits come with interpretive boards, videos and three-dimensional displays that illustrate forest, alpine, ocean and agriculture themes.

"The B.C. Shellfish Growers Association was instrumental in supporting the shellfish and oceans exhibit," said Lara Greasley, marketing and communications director at CVEDS. "They contributed some support so we were able to create a touch tank for kids to get their hands wet and learn about our shellfish industry."

The centre includes a staff office at the back.

"It's meant to be a very open place, not an office building," Watson said. "Really a rest area and experience, a place where people can explore, they can experiment with certain things and get a sense that the Island has so much to offer."

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