District of Kitimat director of economic development Mike Dewar said stakeholders in the district are working towards diversifying the local economy through tourism and entrepreneurial development to stave off the effects of the economic downturn.
“With businesses and individual families feeling the pinch, and businesses shrinking, this is prime time to get the entrepreneurial spirwit to flourish in Kitimat and to look at diversifying the economy through developing tourism,” said Dewar.
He added that this was necessary in light of a number of factors, including LNG Canada’s announcing the delay of their Final Investment Decision (FID) decision for at least 18 to 24 months.
“We assume that as most of the projects are market-based, Kitimat LNG will have a similar timeframe for a potential FID,” said Dewar.
He also referred to the delays with the two proposed oil refineries earmarked for Kitimat, with one of the projects currently in the Environmental Assessment process and the other asking for a temporary leave permit in order to secure additional First Nations and funding support.
“Looking at that in terms of going through the process, the EA process and doing the engineering permitting processes, we wouldn’t expect their FIDs before the end of the decade as well,” added Dewar.
He said the local stakeholders, including the District of Kitimat, the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce and other municipal partners, have been working on a number of projects to develop and diversify the economy in the area.
“Right now, with the extra hotel capacity in Kitimat, the District and other stakeholders in the community have been working on putting on more events in town, especially with the Canada 150 celebrations coming up,” said Dewar.
“We want to try to diversify the economy through tourism and other activities in the Kitimat area.”
He said hotel capacity was one of the challenges in terms of the number of beds that were available for tourists coming to Kitimat.
“We look at that as an area that we can expand on and we have a couple of initiatives going on,” said Dewar.
“This is important – we’re seeing more activity such as the whales coming back into the channel. The natural beauty of the area is something that we would like to focus on.”
He said the District and the Chamber of Commerce are also looking at introducing a ‘book of deals’ for tourists entering the district, which will offer the discounts on accommodation and meals.
He said summer in the District this year would be more eventful, with expanded Canada 150 events, including a concert by Canadian rock icons Chilliwack at the end of June.
He said Kitimat was already receiving more visitors this year, especially with the closure of the Terrace Aquatic Centre for a year while renovations are being undertaken.
“We are already seeing an increase in visitors, with people coming from as far as Nass Valley and Hazleton to use our recreational facilities,” said Dewar.
He said the District was also working with its regional northwest partners at developing tourism opportunities, to “bring mutual prosperity to the entire region rather than just focusing on individual community needs”.
The District’s bid to focus on increasing the number of beds in Kitimat received a shot in the arm recently with the completion of the MStar hotel in the City Centre Mall.
The ribbon cutting for the hotel took place on May 17, which was attended by City Centre Mall owner Jerry Minni, District mayor Phil Germuth, District councillors and staff, the Chamber of Commerce and the contractors that completed the project.
Minni said the decision to build the first MStar hotel in Kitimat stems from the success he has had developing in small communities where he had identified an opportunity for long-term economic growth.
“When I acquired City Centre Mall and the site for Tim Hortons in 2006, I felt that Kitimat was prime for future economic growth and a need existed for short-term accommodations, hence the lease with Tim Hortons and the hotel,” said Minni.
He said his team had decided early on in the planning stages to brand the hotel with the intent to build a chain, through acquisition and construction, and that Kitimat was an obvious choice to start.
“We are currently looking at other areas to develop the MStar brand which include, but not limited to the northwest,” said Minni.
“As an investor and developer I am patient and our focus is to invest early in areas where we see opportunity.”