LITTLE CURRENT – The Manitoulin Welcome Centre management committee and the Northeast Town will be putting the operation of the Manitoulin Welcome Centre—located next to the swing bridge and currently operated by the Manitoulin Tourism Association/Destination Manitoulin Island (MTA)—up for tender in the new year.

“We had a meeting Wednesday of the participating municipalities that were involved. Each had a representative from the committee that was negotiating with the MTA on trying to draft a new agreement with the arrangement we have for the welcome centre,” said Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin.

The last meeting the management committee had with MTA representative Doug Wuksinic was in September.

“Doug indicated he couldn’t recommend our draft proposal to our board, and he thought we should go forward with an RFP (request for proposals). That way, (MTA) could clarify what they were willing to do or not do regarding operating the welcome centre,” said Mayor MacNevin.

The Expositor reached out several times to MTA directors for comment on the announcement of the RFP, but did not receive a statement by press deadline Monday.

The member municipalities of the management committee then went back to see whether they would support tendering the operations of the centre or recommend amending the agreement in some way.

“What came out was the committee members said they unanimously recommended an RFP that would be drafted with the support of staff of member municipalities, to put that out to see who or what would be interested in operating the facility—including inviting the MTA to submit a proposal,” said Mayor MacNevin.

The MTA has expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of the welcome centre agreement. At its annual general meeting last year, the MTA resolved to enter into negotiations with the Northeast Town for a “reasonable tenant agreement for use of space in its current location.” It also resolved to enter into negotiations about the 1990 Information Centre Operations Committee Agreement. 

Under the current operations regime, the MTA has use of the upper floor of the Manitoulin Welcome Centre essentially rent-free with a $5,000 cleaning allowance. 

In exchange, MTA arranges for said cleaning, holds liability insurance and makes its washroom facilities available for public use. MTA also staffs the centre for a minimum of 21 weeks per year.

MTA has in the past raised concerns about the agreement not being inclusive, as the welcome centre agreement only includes six municipalities and no First Nations. It has also placed more emphasis on online initiatives in recent years.

One way for MTA to redefine its presence at the welcome centre would be for it to tender a proposal stating what services it would like to provide for the space. It has been invited to submit said proposal in the public RFP for new operators.

Mayor MacNevin said the building has an annual operating cost of about $30,000. It receives some rental income from the gym and small office space downstairs but the bulk of the expenses are divided up among the participating municipalities in the welcome centre agreement. 

He added that the group  had never thought about issuing an RFP but upon meeting with Mr. Wuksinic, they felt it would be the right move forward.

Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson will be working with representatives from the fellow municipalities that share a stake in the welcome centre operations agreement to draft an RFP that can be released early in 2020.