Yukon looks for bidders to build new convention centre in Whitehorse

Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker said a new convention centre will meet a growing demand for events space in Whitehorse. 'Yukon is turning away business' right now, he said.  (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)
Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker said a new convention centre will meet a growing demand for events space in Whitehorse. 'Yukon is turning away business' right now, he said. (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)

The Yukon government is aiming to build a large new convention centre in Whitehorse, though it's not clear yet how much it might cost, who will pay or where exactly it might go.

The territorial government, in partnership with the non-profit Yukon Convention Bureau, issued a request for proposals this week, hoping bidders will make a pitch for the design, construction and operation of the facility. The goal is to have a multi-purpose venue that can accommodate up to 1,000 people.

"As our tourism sector continues to rebound from the impacts of the pandemic, there is a clear need for modern, accessible and safe event spaces," said Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker in the legislature this week.

He said demand now exceeds supply, particularly in Whitehorse.

"Right now, due to the current gap in our convention infrastructure, the Yukon is turning away business. A new convention centre in Whitehorse will help us build back stronger than ever."

Streicker said the new facility would have twice the capacity of the old Yukon Convention Centre, and double the direct economic impact of convention business. He said it will be able to host events such as banquets, performances and festivals as well as conventions.

The convention bureau's website says Whitehorse can currently accommodate "up to 450 delegates in a variety of conference venues." It also advertises smaller venues in Dawson City, Haines Junction, Watson Lake and Carcross.

According to the government, the event and conference market contributed about $6.5 million annually to the local economy, before the pandemic. A new convention centre is expected to boost that significantly.

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Streicker said some hotel businesses have told the government that such a facility "will be key for their entry into the Yukon market."

The minister said a location has not been chosen yet, but that may be part of the bidding process.

Last fall, the government called for expressions of interest from land holders in the city. Streicker said that process yielded two potential sites — one near the waterfront downtown, and one by Yukon University.

"There are sites in and around the city that are all possible, and within the current zoning," he said.

Opposition looks for more 'meat on the bone'

Yukon's opposition parties found little to criticize in the idea — but they had questions about some of the details.

"[Streicker] didn't really provide a lot of meat on the bone, in terms of what this announcement actually means," said Official Opposition Leader Currie Dixon.

"We don't know how much money is going to be invested in this project, we don't know how much the total capital cost will be, we don't know the location, we don't know the ownership model, we don't know the operations model."

NDP MLA Emily Tredger, who represents the downtown Whitehorse riding of Whitehorse Centre, said her party is "very excited" by the idea of a new venue, but she also had questions about the possible location.

Tredger asked the minister in the legislature whether the facility might go where Whitehorse Elementary School is now located downtown. The government plans to replace that school with a new facility in the Takhini neighbourhood, and Tredger has been among those pushing the government to keep a school in the city's downtown.

"We certainly support the idea of a new convention centre. It would add to tourism dollars and help many service industry businesses in the shoulder seasons. But I do hope that it is not being prioritized over a downtown school," Tredger said.

Streicker assured Tredger that the Whitehorse Elementary School site has not been considered.

"That school is still standing. So it would need to be a site where work can happen," he said.

The request for proposals closes July 14. After that, a steering committee of "knowledgeable local stakeholders" will oversee the procurement process, a government news release says.