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Councillors show confidence in chamber

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES
Orillia District Chamber of Commerce president Dave Carson and Port of Orillia harbourmaster Susan Lang are pictured during Friday's special meeting of city council regarding Port of Orillia operations.

PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES Orillia District Chamber of Commerce president Dave Carson and Port of Orillia harbourmaster Susan Lang are pictured during Friday's special meeting of city council regarding Port of Orillia operations.

The old captain should remain behind the wheel when the new Port of Orillia is fully operational.

During a meeting Friday, city council members indicated their comfort in keeping the status quo and entering a multi-year contract with the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce for the operation of the port. Coun. Ted Emond suggested as much as five years for the new contract, with other councillors indicating they want to see the chamber in charge at least through the start of the next term of council.

If the discussion on the port hadn’t been held in a special meeting of council committee, direction to staff to negotiate a new lease could have likely been passed during Friday’s meeting.

The lease renewal first came to council’s attention in May, with council committee at the time recommending a two-year lease instead of the traditional five years. At the subsequent council meeting, the motion was deferred until August so council and chamber staff could have a strategic planning session during the summer to discuss the future of the port.

That meeting came Friday, with councillors directing a variety of questions at chamber president Dave Carson and senior staff members, including parks, recreation and culture director Ray Merkley and economic development director Ian Bromley.

Carson reiterated the chamber’s desire to continue operating the port, as it has for more than four decades. He also was relieved to hear a desire at the council table to have the next lease go beyond two years.

“It gives us longevity for the purpose of our event planning,” Carson said. “It allows to book things like the Toronto Boat Show. It allows to book advertising in all the publications that go throughout the Trent-Severn Waterway. It gives a little more certainty of time to put in place a good plan for tourism.”

Carson added he was hopeful the delay in getting the lease signed wouldn’t have jeopardized either the port’s entry in the Toronto Boat Show or its traditional prime location on the convention centre floor.

For the chamber, it doesn’t matter how long the lease would be or if the lease would sole-sourced or put up in a request for proposals; it wants to continue its partnership at the port, Carson said. The only issue the chamber had with some of the previous discussions on the issue at council and council committee was an idea to add boat storage to the services offered at the port.

Both the chamber and the Downtown Orillia Management Board — as indicated in a statement by Coun. Pat Hehn — are against such a proposal for seasonal slips, fearful of the impact it may have on the transient boater population. An additional concern on storage for the chamber would be the municipal government actively offering the same service and competing with private businesses located in the city.

Even if council went another direction with the operation of the port, the chamber still envisions itself as having a role to play.

“The waterfront festival, the spring boat show — those events are separate from the port operations,” Carson said. “Those events will still go on as we’re welcome there and as long they make sense for the chamber of commerce to run. A lot of our businesses are tourist driven, so it makes sense for the chamber of commerce to get involved, bring tourists to the main hub — the downtown of Orillia — and try and push them up the street.”

The motion deferred by council calling for a two-year lease will be back at the Aug. 22 meeting. If any council member wants to increase the length of the term on the lease, an amendment will have to be entertained first.

pbales@postmedia.com

twitter.com/patrickbales



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