Having recently acquired property in a prime location near Highway 99, Merlin Air is looking to move ahead with plans to build and open a tourism facility in Pemberton.
The company revealed plans for the Merlin Air Adventure and Event Centre in a Saturday (Feb. 16) release, which also announced the acquisition of property from the Wuschke family near the turn-off to Portage Road from the highway.
Merlin Air intends to apply for a Development Permit allowing it to build the facility, which would act as the company’s base for arrivals and departures out of the Pemberton Regional Airport, air charter services and its tour and travel company.
Senior vice-president Lori Xavier said that the company was excited to be able to get its hands on Lot 4 — a highly-visible parcel essentially located behind the Pemberton sign at the traffic lights — to establish the multi-use facility.
“It’s a great location, right off the highway — a beautiful piece of property,” said Xavier on Monday (Feb. 18). “We’ve been talking with the Wuschke family now for almost a year. It’s a very important piece of land to their family history, so when we talked about it, it was very important that they agreed with what we’re doing.”
The announcement stated that the proposed building would “be architecturally integrated into the surroundings and become a cornerstone for tourism and adventure travellers,” featuring a full outdoor deck and First Nations art on display.
Beyond its own operations, Merlin Air plans to invite other tourism operators into the building and open it up as an event centre for gatherings like weddings, catered affairs or musical performances.
“We thought, if we’re building it, we wanted to expand it, let tour operators use it as well, consolidate some bookings. We want to talk to the Chamber of Commerce about integrating some of the Tourism Pemberton things, hold little concerts and events,” said Xavier. “I think everything we’re offering is complementary and not competitive.
“When we saw the space … we thought, ‘What a great place for this kind of thing that can benefit Pemberton.’”
Xavier said that Merlin Air “probably spent longer than we should have” in its unsuccessful efforts to build a facility at the airport, which first got underway prior to the Olympics. But the announcement of the new facility comes as the company has changed its focus towards regional transportation and tourism.
“We changed our model, in essence — fly or die, as they say — to be on a more regional basis,” she said. “The timing was great, because the province … (is) now extremely supportive of the tourism industry, aviation industry and regional aviation. Pemberton-Whistler is a very important piece to us, but it’s not the only piece anymore.
“Our job is to provide regional service. We want to be able to move people back and forth between the smaller airports, which is difficult to do right now.”
Merlin Air’s charter service will offer “executive style” Piper Navajo aircraft, which seat six to eight passengers, equipped with long-range fuel tanks.
Xavier said it will be a couple of months before the company can settle on a target date for the building’s completion. In the meantime, she said, Merlin Air will be consulting with community members and other stakeholders in Sea to Sky tourism to get a sense of what their desires are for the finished product. She added that some preliminary work has already been completed at the site.
“We know the environmental standards in that area will be very high, so we’re ready to meet that challenge, and we want to spend some time talking to the community,” she said.