Sunfest relocation sparks talk of festivals

The last chance for the public to speak on it before it moves to third reading will be on Monday, Dec. 7 at a meeting at the Youbou Hall

Mark Mitchell

Although the discussion Nov. 17 was not centred on Lake Town Ranch and Sunfest moving to Meade Creek, it was still clear that the Cowichan Lake folks who packed the room to chat about Lake Cowichan’s economic future were vitally interested in what was happening on that front.

The application by the Lake Town Ranch developers is passing through the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s public hearing stage. The last chance for the public to speak on it before it moves to third reading will be on Monday, Dec. 7 at a meeting at the Youbou Hall, starting at 7 p.m.

Lake Cowichan Coun. Bob Day, who was quarterbacking the meeting as part of his work as chair of the town’s economic and sustainable development committee, stated bluntly that he was not taking the helm of any local leadership group that seemed to be forming.

“But, there are obviously still a lot of people here who want to be here,” he said.

However, he did have some advice for the local eager beavers who want to move Lake Cowichan towards a future with a firmer financial foundation, taking advantage of a boost from Sunfest’s relocation.

“This is a serious thing. We’ve got a chance here. Maybe the Youbou Pub will re-open. Maybe the Cutthroat Pub at Honeymoon Bay will re-open. We’re not going to bring a sawmill back here, though. We’re not getting a pulp mill built. We’re not even getting a chicken processing plant,” he said, referring to an idea that was floated a few years back.

Day said that a tight business climate combined with Lake Cowichan’s off-the-beaten-track location put the kibosh on hopes of attracting competitive corporate ventures.

However, that doesn’t mean that all of opportunity’s doors are closed to Cowichan Lake people. Festivals could be the way of the future.

Day, Lake Cowichan Mayor Ross Forrest and grocery store manager Jenn Pollner reported to the group on what they’d discovered at a recent economic summit.

Forrest said that “marine tourism” was an idea worth pursuing. Lake Cowichan may not have access to the ocean but they have a fantastic lake, and 70 per cent of B.C.’s boaters live on Vancouver Island.

If the Cowichan Lake area were to become known for its festivals, boaters could come in large numbers, leading to marina development and more, he said.

In addition, by 2020, experts are predicting a huge need for workers in the tourism industry, according to Forrest.

“And we’re running out of young people. We should be looking at hiring baby boomers, who might like the flexible hours and seasonal work,” he said.

Pollner agreed about the idea of developing festivals at the Lake.

“They are a driving force. People would be coming here to do something,” she said, suggesting that the Cowichan Lake area could learn a lot from Tofino, which built its flourishing tourist economy on its natural beauty.

Day said that what was needed were “vibrant” events that got people excited and that arts and cultural events can be real money-makers if the right ones are chosen and they are marketed in an exciting way.

“Businesses will look after themselves. We just have to give them a good place to land in,” he said.

Lake Town Ranch’s Mark Mitchell urged anyone who is in favour of his group’s development at Meade Creek to attend the meeting.

“We’re at the last hurdle now. We need support, especially from people from Area I,” he said, adding that he expected the subject would probably come to a CVRD meeting for board discussion around           Jan. 20.

Asked if he thought Sunfest would really re-relocate as soon as next summer, he said he would be ready to hand the Lake Town keys over July 1. What happens after that is up to Sunfest, he said, adding, “the stars have to align.”

Community Futures’ Cathy Robertson said she didn’t know if all the concerns she had been hearing could be dealt with by one committee but Dr. Les Bowd said he thought they all indicated that people were recognizing different aspects of the same opportunity.

“This is our trigger to get something going,” he said.