A bar proposed for a Campbellton neighbourhood is facing opposition from residents who believe it will set back their efforts to transform the area into a clean, liveable part of the city.
The owner of the Voodoo Lounge has applied to transfer the liquor licence for the shuttered establishment on Ironwood Street to a new location at the site of the former Acklands-Granger building at 1620 Island Highway, two doors down from the old Quinsam Hotel site.
Although the location is on Highway 19A and is fronted by commercial establishments from the Wei Wai Kum First Nation reserve to the Highway 19 and Highway 28 intersection, immediately behind it and spread along the banks of the Campbell River are residences. And many of the residents are alarmed about the possibility of a “live music night club, karaoke and comedy venue,” as outlined by a notification letter from the city.
“The venue is not an appropriate spot in a predominantly owner-occupied single family neighbourhood to have it right at the back door of some of the new builds and some of the new owners,” said Karen Bourquin, a resident of the area. “We’ve got a revitalized community happening already.”
Campbellton is the oldest part of the City of Campbell River and up until recently was seen as a “rough” part of town that has had problems with drug dealing and prostitution. In recent years, a concerted effort by Campbellton businesses and residents has been driving a revitalization of the whole area with street clean ups, park creation and plans developed for further improvements, particularly focusing on the neighbourhood’s position along the banks of the Campbell River and as the northern entrance into the city.
A bar or lounge in the Highway 19 and Maple Street area does not fit with revitalization efforts, according to residents, and a petition is being circulated to oppose the liquor licence transfer application. Residents and businesses are also writing letters to the city to express their objection. The bar proposal is expected to be a topic of conversation at the Campbellton Neighbourhood Association AGM Thursday, Jan. 23.
“We’ve started to see a real neighbourhood starting to develop, thankfully, since the Quinsam burned down,” Bourquin said.
The Quinsam Hotel was a famous business that occupied a lot at the eastern entrance to Campbellton. The historic building housed a popular bar but was destroyed by fire in June 2017. The proposed bar is two addresses west of the now-empty Quinsam Hotel lot.
“Since the Quinsam burned down almost three years ago,” resident Jordan Elwood said, “we’ve seen a turnaround in property values.
People, like Elwood – who moved into a home behind the property in question – have invested in homes. The area has the appeal of being situated on the river.
“It’s become a family neighbourhood,” Elwood says. “Nobody wants a bar open until 2 a.m. on a Tuesday in your back yard.”
But a spokesperson for the owner says they are not putting in a pub or a bar, they are putting in a 600-seat “entertainment venue” that will showcase a higher level of acts such as tribute bands, bigger name country and western bands, comedians, and other musical performances that go beyond cover bands in a bar. Think of the legendary Vancouver showroom, the Commodore Ballroom. And the focus will be on staging these shows Friday and Saturday nights, with occasional Thursdays.
[Editor’s note: Vancouver-area business person Salvatore Guzzo is the owner of the property and one of his representatives called the Campbell River Mirror to explain their plans. The spokesperson, however, after seeing negative comments on a Facebook post of the first version of this story, declined to have his name used, a scenario we’re not usually in favour of, however, we include general comments in the interest of providing information to our readers]
The old Voodoo Lounge building is too run down and renovation is not financially viable enough to implement this kind of entertainment plan in the Ironwood location, according to the spokesperson. The value to Campbell River and Island tourism was cited as was the positive impact on the continuing efforts to rejuvenate Campbellton. The project will enhance the area not ruin it and the owner is willing to work with the community, the spokesperson said.
It was acknowledge that perhaps communication with the community was not done as well as it should have. The City of Campbell River’s own notice to neighbours says “The applicant is proposing to utilize the Liquor Primary Licence to operate a live music night club, karaoke and comedy venue.”
The opponents say the bar proposal also goes against the city’s Official Community Plan (OCP) which says “Historic Campbellton is positioned to continue its transformation and become a unique neighbourhood that is in the early stages of revitalization.”
Residents also have a beef with the city’s consultation process. Neighbours of the property only received notification of the liquor application last week and the item is coming up on the city council agenda on Monday, Jan. 27. The notification letter said city council will consider endorsing this application at its regular meeting Jan. 27 and if anyone believes their interests are affected by the proposed licence, they have until Friday, Jan. 24 to submit their written comments.
Comments received will be presented to council for consideration and its decision will be taken into account by the Provincial Liquor Control and Licensing Branch.
Elwood says that neighbours are required to be given 14 days notice but by the time notices arrived in the mail, there was only about 10 days left within which to comment on the proposal.
Bourquin said the owner should keep the liquor licence where it currently exists, the old Voodoo Lounge on Ironwood Street, and not transfer it to their part of Campbellton.
“We have the democratic right to say no, this isn’t appropriate,” Bourquin said. “They have the right to ask for it but we have the right to oppose it.”