Victoria Conference Centre general manager Jocelyn Jenkyns stands inside the Crystal Garden. In the background workers tear down the decor from the previous evening’s event.

Crystal Garden: the new reality

The iconic Crystal Garden hasn’t been able to attract the business it had hoped after renovating the historic building.

The $10-million renovation wrapped up three years ago in the hopes of attracting more clients. But just then, the effects of the global economic crisis hit.

Business didn’t boom as many hoped.

“It’s been tricky,” said Jocelyn Jenkyns, general manager of the Victoria Conference Centre, one of the businesses operating out of the 86-year-old building.

Since reopening after renovations in 2008, bookings have brought fewer delegates to the centre than in years past; major conferences were cancelled and larger conference centres have begun booking smaller events to draw any dollars they can, giving the Crystal Garden location more competition.

“I would have to say that there was a time, going back even 10 years ago, when things were very predictable,” Jenkyns said. “Those days are gone now, unfortunately, and this is the challenge. Our partners in hotels have experienced the same thing.”

Already though, 2011 is looking more promising.

With three new tenants securing spots in the building last year and three more bidding on spots now, it’ll be easier to balance the books on the $350,000-per-year lease the conference centre pays to Crystal Garden’s owner, the Provincial Capital Commission, plus $650,000 in operational costs. The extra space Crystal Garden lends the conference centre brings bigger events to town.

“This year is probably one of the better years in terms of the number of events, but what we’re seeing in some areas is they’re not always achieving the number of delegates they hoped,” Jenkyns said. Some conferences pay per delegate.

To make up for lost local and out-of-town conferences, the conference centre has hosted more community events than in the past, including the Tea Festival and Culinaire.

“But they can’t always pay top dollar,” Jenkyns added.

Conferences create a symbiotic relationship between Crystal Garden and Victoria’s tourism economy, said Mayor Dean Fortin.

“Conferences give us an opportunity to showcase all the natural assets of Victoria to the delegates that come here,” Fortin said. He added, “last year was a really bad year, but this year is much better.”

Jenkyns said Greater Victoria’s prospering tech sector is attracting conferences that hope to offer a glimpse of what the city has to offer.

“People are wanting to come here to see what’s going on, who are these people, what’s happening,” she said. “The key is, no one holds a conference just to be able to stay in a destination, but we have it all going for us. So, when people figure out what’s going on here from a business perspective, they’re quite surprised.”

Crystal Garden, designed by Francis Rattenbury, opened in 1925 and was once the biggest saltwater swimming pool in the British Empire.



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