Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Revamp for Forks tourism hub

Travel Manitoba office will get refreshed look

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Travel Manitoba's flagship visitor centre at The Forks is getting a $2.9-million makeover that will see stuffed animals and other static tourism displays replaced with state-of-the-art, interactive displays and some new office space.

Details of how the Forks North Portage Corporation (FNPC) and Travel Manitoba plan to redevelop the 7,500-square-foot, single-storey building were unveiled Thursday at The Forks.

FNPC chief executive officer Jim August said FNPC and Travel Manitoba officials agreed two years ago the approximately 20-year-old facility, which is located next door to the Johnson Terminal, needed to be modernized and reimagined.

What they came up with was a plan that will see the building gutted and all of the existing displays either returned to the organizations that donated them or turned over to the Red River Exhibition.

'It (the new centre) is just going to be much more flexible, informative and attractive'

-- Jim August

FNPC will then add a new mezzanine level to house new offices for Travel Manitoba, which currently leases space in an office tower at 155 Carlton St. A new information counter will be installed on the main floor, along with a host of state-of-the-art, interactive displays visitors of all ages can use.

"The displays right now are very tired," August said in an interview. "It (the new centre) is just going to be much more flexible, informative and attractive. It will have a very contemporary look and feel."

Travel Manitoba president and CEO Colin Ferguson said the new centre, which will open next March, will provide information about all of Manitoba's key tourist attractions.

"This building will not only welcome visitors, but bring these experiences to life," he added.

August said FNPC also benefits by landing a secure, long-term tenant that will provide additional rent income for the next 20 to 25 years. And Ferguson said Travel Manitoba will realize cost savings and new operational efficiencies by having all staff at a single location.

While Ferguson, August and Tourism Minister Ron Lemieux all gushed about the pending changes, one Winnipegger who was visiting the centre Thursday with her husband and two young daughters was dismayed to learn all of the existing displays will be disappearing at the end of the summer.

"I'll be sad to see some of these go. Especially the (stuffed) polar bear and buffalo," Catherine Glass said.

Glass said her family visits the centre often, and her six-year-old and eight-year-old daughters enjoy playing on the antique, steel-wheeled, tractor and on the overhead footbridge.

While she agreed new photographs on the walls and some interactive displays would be welcome additions, she also would have liked to see most of the existing displays retained.

"I like it (the way it is). It just needs refreshing," she said. "But maybe I'm not like everyone else."

August conceded that refreshing rather than replacing the existing displays was an option, but said it would have been a costly one. They also needed to create room for the new Travel Manitoba offices.

"This works for everyone. It will be a new... contemporary, information centre with the (Manitoba Travel) staff all there. And it works for us because we can do the development and get a return on a long-term lease."

August said the existing centre will remain open until after the Labour Day long weekend in September. The centre's staff will then be moved to a temporary location in The Forks Market building until the new centre is ready.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2014 B6

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