Whale watching and public events in the parking lot are all a part of the plan to inject new life to the Oak Bay Marina.
“It’s always confused me why whale watching was not permitted within our zoning here but it’s a natural spot to operate whale watching out of the marina,” said Brook Castelsky, Oak Bay Marine Group chief operating officer. “Ultimately we’ve always wanted to continue moving into the direction of having Oak Bay Marina as an active destination for locals and tourists.”
Oak Bay Marine Group needs amendments to their lease agreement for both items.
They’ve already added to that market, with bicycle rentals, kayak rentals and rowing rentals all added in the past two years.
Bicycles offer an opportunity for boaters to head into Oak Bay and Estevan villages to “replenish” Castelsky said. Now they’re working with Tourism Oak Bay to promote those aspects with a view to “have a positive impact” on Oak Bay and all its villages as well as the marina.
“The other part of that then, is to open up and start utilizing the parking lot in a much more effective way and have the ability to operate or hold events in the parking lot,” Castelsky said, adding the space could host fundraising events, markets and arts events. “These are many ideas that could take place in the parking lot. It’s such a natural spot for all of these things to take place.”
Oak Bay set a public hearing on those bylaws required for the change May 3.
“I was thrilled to see this, especially use of the parking lot,” said Coun. Michelle Kirby. “It’s always bothered me that it’s such an incredible vantage point and it’s used as a parking lot.”
The marina was once a hub, with the parking lot frequently full as home to Sealand of the Pacific which opened in 1969. The aquarium closed in 1992 in the wake of a death attributed to orca Tilikum – the drowning of trainer Keltie Byrne in 1991. Tilikum was responsible for two more deaths after his move to Seaworld – in 1999 a guest evaded security and stayed in the orca enclosure overnight and was found dead in the morning, and SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.
The bylaws that would allow expanded parking lot uses and allow whale watching out of the marina head for public hearing May 3 at 6 p.m. at Oak Bay High.
“We just want to continue to drive tourism to the area. The marina business is changing and I think we’re doing a nice job,” Castelsky said. “That’s our focus as a company, to (create destinations) and create a real community at the marina.”