Leadership with the City of Kenora has developed a number of ways to support local businesses this summer throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which includes changes to rental fees at the Whitecap Pavilion for public events and weddings.

During a virtual Council meeting earlier this week, city councillors discussed the implementation and approved the City of Kenora’s 2021 Economic Recovery Plan, which aims to support the local business community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of the initiatives detailed in the plan is to change and eliminate a variety of rental fees for the Whitecap Pavilion, as staff hope to increase the number of public events held in the area each year. The new rates are also expected to stay in effect past the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city’s plan states they will eliminate the Pavilion’s rental fee for community-based events that are open to the public, helping to remove a barrier for organizers interested in starting new events or expanding existing events.

Councillor Mort Goss noted non-profit groups have difficulty paying for the pavilion’s rental costs, and the city can look at using Municipal Accommodation Tax revenues to offset their revenue losses.

Staff have also removed early set-up, evening and all off-season rental fees, and have simplified what rental options are available to the community. However, they do include a revised and increased fee for wedding rentals.

A weekend rental of the Whitecap Pavilion was previously available for $2,100 in the off-season and $2,625 in the peak summer months, which didn’t include a $25 sound system fee or any early set-up fees. A half-day rental was $420 in the summer and $367 in the off-season, with a full-day rental listed at $1050 and $945, respectively.

Now, a wedding is expected to cost $3,000 plus HST, but it will include early set-up and post-event clean-up periods, as the city says it’s often requested from wedding organizers. A wedding rental will now book the Pavilion between Friday at 11 a.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m.

Private rentals outside of weddings, such as boat and car shows and conferences, also have revised rates. They’re listed at $420 for a half-day, $1050 for a full day and $2,625 for a weekend, all equal to the previous peak season prices. That represents an overall increase in prices when compared to previous off-season rates.

While on the subject of weddings under the Whitecap, Councillor Sharon Smith shared her concerns regarding events shutting down the Harbourfront area during key tourism months.

“Renting the Pavilion out to weddings, closing off that Harbourfront and shutting down the boardwalk for a private event, I don’t see that contributing to a vibrant Harbourfront. The Harbourfront is meant to be [accessible] to the water all the time. When you take up the Harbourfront like that on the weekends, you’ve in effect closed it down to tourists and residents.”

Manager of Development Services for the City of Kenora, Adam Smith, says Kenora sees between three to four weddings under the Whitecap each year, typically held over the summer months.

“If we’re looking to create a more vibrant Harbourfront, an engaged community and a tourist destination, we have to decide if that Pavilion is going to be a revenue generator, or if it’s going to be to promote our Harbourfront,” Smith adds.

Mayor Dan Reynard notes city staff are continuing to develop their Recreation Master Plan and Harbourfront redevelopment work, so future use of the Whitecap Pavilion and the Harbourfront area can be determined at a later date.

“We’ve got a plan for this summer, and by incorporating this Recreation Master Plan, then we can look at the best use of the Whitecap Pavilion on a going-forward basis. That puts us in a good position to make informed and good decisions moving forward in the coming years.”

Kenora’s Harbourfront Business Development Plan of December 2019 states a redevelopment of Kenora’s Harbourfront area could reach over $25 million, and funding applications have been sent to the provincial and federal governments.

The report states possible work could include improvements to McLeod Park, the Greenbelt, Husky’s Landing, additional parking spaces and docks, additional events under the Whitecap, a gathering circle and picnic area, pond hockey, pier improvements, a restaurant, bar and condominium, a pool and sauna area, a nature area, and a pedestrian “woonerf” – meaning a shared road for pedestrian use.

Other initiatives listed in the city’s 2021 Economic Recovery Plan include:

- Free metered parking in the Harbourtown Centre for July 2021, excluding municipal parking lots,
- Free evening and weekend parking at the Park Street parking lot,
- Three Main Street Markets, where the city closes Main Street South to host vendors,
- A multi-media campaign to promote shopping local,
- A local gift-card and rewards program at local businesses,
- An expansion of curbside and dockside pickup locations,
- Continued support to allow businesses to develop outdoor patios,
- Development of a pop-up patio at the old Lila’s Block building property downtown,
- Improved flexibility to allow food trucks for short-term leases on the Harbourfront,
- A ribbon-cutting event in May,

These initiatives are expected to cost the City of Kenora about $45,000.

Last year, Kenora’s Economic Recovery Plan included initiatives to bring tourists back to the area if possible, which unfortunately it wasn’t due to COVID-19 concerns, restoring downtown activity, growing the ‘resilience’ of merchants, and providing infrastructure to support the recovery efforts.