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Tourism industry applauds decision to cancel museum rebuild

Prudent, smart and courageous to cancel $789-million RBCM replacement project, tourism officials say
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Many tourism operators say the Royal British Columbia Museum is a big attraction for visitors, especially in the winter season. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Victoria’s tourism industry is calling the cancellation of the proposed $789-million rebuild of the Royal B.C. Museum the right decision, saying that hitting pause was prudent, smart and courageous.

“This is significant for tourism, our hotel, and I believe the Greater Victoria accommodation sector,” said Reid James, general manager of the Hotel Grand Pacific. “Both the [museum] and the Imax Theatre are major attractions for Victoria, luring all ages from all over the world.

“The notion that tourism would be without these attractions for eight years combined with the untimely high cost made no sense at all. It was a smart decision to cancel the project.”

The industry was stunned a month ago when the province announced it intended to rebuild the museum, which would necessitate shutting down the facility until 2030.

Ryan Burles, president of Black Ball Ferry, which operates the Coho car ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles, said the prospect of a long-term shutdown was especially tough as the industry emerges from the pandemic.

Putting that on pause, he said, “is a really good sign for Victoria and tourism in general,” he said, noting the museum is the second biggest draw for visitors coming to Victoria from the U.S. via the Coho.

“It’s right up there with Butchart Gardens,” he said. “And it’s also an all-year destination, so it’s huge for us in the winter. It’s a driver.”

Scott Meis, vice-president of Clipper Vacations, which operates the passenger ferry between Victoria and Seattle, agreed, saying on average, a few thousand Clipper guests visit the museum each year.

“The annual featured exhibits have always been a strong draw, particularly during the shoulder season when weather in the region may not always lend itself to outdoor activities.”

John Wilson, president of Wilson’s Transportation, said he had been working with the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce to push for the province to change its mind. The attraction brings more than 50,000 people a year to the city year-round, he said.

“We were advocating for them to take a step back and look at the bigger picture,” he said. “Obviously something needs to be done with the museum, but right now, tourism is just recovering from the hardest years ever and we need some stability in the industry.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said she appreciated Horgan’s courage in changing his mind.

“We are very supportive of having the Royal B.C. Museum in the capital city for generations to come and making sure that it reflects the experiences of all British Columbians and making sure it’s a project that can be widely supported by the public,” she said. “I expect there is going to be some thoughtful public engagement over the next little while and they will make some form of investment in the museum and all the things it holds and all of the stories it needs to tell.”

Helps said being able to say you got it wrong is a sign of good leadership.

“Good leaders know when it’s time to take a step back,” she said. “[Horgan] took that step back and he’s opening up the dialogue with all of us.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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