Sunfest organizers hope to move festival to Cowichan Lake

Sunfest 2016 could be the largest event to take place in the area, with over 50,000 attendees.

Organizers of the Sunfest Country Music Festival want to bring the annual music festival, one of the biggest on Vancouver Island, to the Cowichan Lake area — but will residents be on board?

The proposed venue, recently purchased by the owners of Sunfest, is located off the Youbou Highway, five kilometres from Lake Cowichan. Sunfest PR manager Emmalee Brunt said that the organizers have deemed the move necessary due to the growing popularity of the event. With 50,000 country music fans flocking to the festival this year, the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds, Sunfest’s current venue, is beginning to reach capacity. The proposed 65-acre site would give the music festival more breathing space.

“We’d like to keep growing,” Brunt said. “As much as we love the Cowichan Exhibition Grounds, we’ve reached the maximum capacity. The new venue is three times the size — we’re not necessarily going to grow three times our size, but it gives us room to play around with the layout and stage sizes.”

Mike Tippett, manager of planning and development at the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD), confirmed that the CVRD received Sunfest’s application at the end of June, though he said a written report had not yet reached the group’s advisory planning commission for approval yet. The CVRD is waiting on a sound study being conducted by Sunfest organizers before going forward, and a public meeting for residents is scheduled to take place at the proposed venue on August 20 at 6:30 p.m.

Though the application ultimately lies in the hands of the CVRD, Lake Cowichan town councillor Bob Day said that he’s standing behind the decision to move the music festival to Cowichan Lake, citing the economic boost the 50,000 Sunfest attendees could potentially bring to the town.

Sunfest 2016, if the venue proposal goes through, would mark the biggest event to take place in the Cowichan Lake area, by far. Day said that if businesses would be willing to “take the opportunity,” the benefits could be huge.

“I could see some sort of transit between the venue and Lake Cowichan,” Day said. “During the event there’s not much to do between the time you wake up and when the music starts. Those people could be in Lake Cowichan, shopping and eating at our businesses.”

Day also said he was given a behind-the-scenes tour of this year’s Sunfest, and was impressed with how well-managed the event was concerning security and waste cleanup, saying it “satisfied any concerns [he] may have had.”

“For the people who are concerned, but still want to see the community thrive, I don’t know what else they think will come along,” Day said.

Sunfest organizers are hoping to move into the proposed venue by next summer, and are currently awaiting a review by the CVRD and public consultation from nearby residents.