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Visitors centre exhibits close indefinitely
Organization extends focus outside building after shifting support pilings impacts operations

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Friday, May 6, 2016

With no immediate solution for damage caused by shifting pilings that support one-third of the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre, a focus on outdoor exhibits will ease the not-for-profit through the busy summer season.

NNSL photo/graphic

Jessica Curren works on the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre garden. With damage to the building closing off exhibits, focus is being put on outdoor spaces around the centre for the summer months. - Elaine Anselmi/NNSL photo

"We're focusing on the garden and we're going to do as much as possible in the yard," said executive director Tracy Therrien.

As well, two boardrooms on the top floor of the centre will be cleared out and made into exhibit spaces and house the centre's polar bear and caribou. The computer station for visitors to look up restaurants and places to stay will also be moved into a safer part of the building for the time being.

Although not an ideal situation, Therrien was enthusiastic about the possibility of outdoor exhibits and the use of the boardrooms to continue to offer visitors to town a place to land and gather necessary information.

The exhibit space has been closed since late April.

At this point, the damaged area of the visitors centre is closed indefinitely.

"We really need a permanent fix because the damage is so extensive and it's getting worse, year after year," Therrien said.

"The continuous damage is just going to eventually destroy that end of the building."

With funding from 2013-14 - which included contributions from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) - engineers were brought in to assess the damage and Therrien said several solutions were recommended.

In assessing the damage and possible options, the Department of Public Works was also brought into the conversation and Therrien said one of two options for fixing the building is being considered but she would not specify exactly what that option was.

As well as problems with the building's supports, the shore around the centre was the target of beavers, leaving scores of chewed-off stumps.

With one of the centre's big events, the World Shore Lunch Championship, coming up on June 4, Therrien said the organization plans to level out the area cleared by beavers and put picnic tables down both for the event and for public use afterward.

Also, some work in the yard and exhibit setup will be on hold for a few weeks with the area around the centre set to be dug up for new waterlines to run through to the new hotel development across the highway. Therrien was told the work would only last about two weeks.

Eventually, she said the organization plans to build a memorial garden outside the centre for Timothy Henderson, who worked at the centre for two years and died last April due to self-inflicted injuries. Therrien said the garden would honour Henderson and other youth experiencing similar struggles.

The visitors centre provides a service NWT Tourism executive director Cathie Bolstad said is an important part of the entire visitor experience - particularly with it being the welcome gate to the capital city.

"As the destination marketing organization for the Northwest Territories, all visitors centres wherever they are located play a very important role in putting a period on the end of the statement of our marketing," said Bolstad.

"We go out and talk about all of the great places to visit and destinations to go to, and when they land, a visitors centre is where that experience begins."

From the centre's hospitality, to the information it provides, Bolstad said keeps visitors in the city and territory longer and brings in more outside revenue.

"We're really hopeful they're able to solve the building issues because we'd really like to see the building be as spectacular as the service they provide," Bolstad said.

In terms of funding, the centre costs approximately $1 million to operate each year - about $250,000 of that coming from ITI and the City of Yellowknife. Other sources include the centre's own revenue from local arts and craft sales and services.

With costly repairs likely needed to find a long-term solution this long-standing problem, Therrien said other means of funding will be needing.

"We're probably going to have to look outside traditional funding sources," Therrien said.

"This could be a very large fix - municipal, territorial, federal - we're probably looking at all avenues."

Neither ITI nor Public Works responded to a request for comment by press time.

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