Northeast Town opens welcome centre tenders

Welcome Centre in Little Current. Photo by Warren Schlote

LITTLE CURRENT—The Northeast Town has today opened its request for proposal (RFP) process to find a suitable operator for the Manitoulin Welcome Centre near the swing bridge in Little Current.

“Right now, the plan is to issue the RFP and get a person in there to perhaps run a commercial operation and provide information for the travelling public,” Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson told The Expositor.

The tender, which can be found within the municipality’s ad on Page 10 of this newspaper, will be open until the end of this month, January 31. As part of the process, current tenant the Manitoulin Tourism Association—which has since rebranded to Destination Manitoulin Island (DMI)—has been issued a notice to vacate the space.

“We need an option to have information services provided out of that location. Council and the committee of representatives from other municipalities are adamant those services need to be provided,” said Mr. Williamson.

Proposals will be reviewed by Northeast Town staff, which will then issue a recommendation to the operating committee and town council. However, since the Northeast Town owns the building, the final approval falls to the municipal council. All of the partner townships within the operating committee will be part of the decision making.

If a suitable proposal cannot be selected, Mr. Williamson said the township may have to go to ‘Plan B.’ This may involve operating the tourism centre portion of the building and leasing another portion. The preference through the RFP is to have one operator cover both of those aspects of the building. 

The fate of welcome centre operations has been in question in recent times after directors of DMI voted to renegotiate the organization’s tenancy agreement with the municipality.

The Northeast Town owns the facility and provides its upper floor to DMI essentially rent-free. In exchange, DMI arranges for cleaning the space through a $5,000 grant, provides its washrooms to the public and must staff the facility for a minimum of 21 weeks per year to provide traveller information.

The welcome centre is overseen by a contingent of Island municipalities that make up the centre’s operations committee. These townships all contribute funds on a per-capita basis to support the welcome centre.

However, the agreement does not include all townships on Manitoulin Island. Also absent is any committee representation from Island First Nations.

DMI has called the agreement outdated and it has also expressed interest in moving more of its promotion and marketing focus online. DMI and the Northeast Town had been in talks to revise and update the agreement in the past year but negotiations ultimately ended with a stalemate.

In the December 4, 2019 edition of this newspaper, Northeast Town Mayor Al MacNevin shared that DMI representative Doug Wuksinic, who was representing the tourism agency in the negotiations, had suggested the best way forward would be to issue a public tender for the operations of the centre. That way, DMI could submit a proposal about exactly what it would be willing to provide going forward.

DMI is expected to submit a proposal into this RFP. 

Current annual operating costs for the whole building are roughly $30,000, with some rent coming from the community gym in the basement. The partner municipalities fund the welcome centre portion.