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Penticton tourist attraction forging ahead

May 23 marked the end of a year that began in crisis for the S.S. Sicamous Society, with challenges met and the ships on a solid business footing.

At their 2011 AGM, things looked dour for the S.S. Sicamous, with no board of directors, a maxed out line of credit and the City of Penticton withholding their annual grant until the society had set their house in order.

The ship itself was, as always, in need of ongoing repairs, and the society was dealing with a one-person CUPE local after a former manager had unionized.

“What happened a year ago is that the previous board, by and large, refused to stand for re-election. There were a couple of exceptions, Jim Cooper being one,” said Greg Hollingsworth. “We recruited a new board, of which I was  member. We had to set about cleaning up a mess.”

The new board was informed the society was about $46,000 in debt.

“That was just the defect on the line of credit at Prospera (Credit Union), but in actual fact there were a lot of remittances and that type of thing we had to send in to the government. We had a pretty big hole,” said Hollingsworth.

The line of credit was converted into a five-year long-term loan, and we’ve been paying that off and it is all current and good. We got the accounts sorted out and cleaned up and the government is happy and we set out to create a business plan that worked for the ship. It hadn’t been run very well.

Penticton City Council, under the society's previous board, were concerned that the money wasn’t going to the appropriate places.

“We had meetings with city council, we set out a business plan and the budget, we explained how we intended to deal with the issues,” said Hollingsworth. “Our relationship with the  city is excellent.”

Rebuilding relationships has been a major theme as the society worked to restructure itself. As with the city council, Hollingsworth said the society had to reestablish their connections with the business sector and the community.

“We’ve got a good sold relationship with Penticton’s business community again, which is important,” he said. “Membership has been gradually  increasing. People were really, really sceptical, particularly about the unionization. It scared the hell out of people.”

The union issues disappeared in September, when CUPE voluntarily applied to decertify the local, restoring the volunteer-run organization to its former operating structure.

“We have resolved the union issue. Our membership has grown. Our restoration projects are all moving forward.” said Jim Cooper, chair of the society. “We have the society on solid business footing and we are looking forward to our best summer ever this year, which marks the Sicamous’ 20th year as a top tourist destination in Penticton.”

Though they were only able to open the Sicamous for a portion of the 2011 season, July through September, Hollingsworth said it was a solid rebuilding season.

“We had about 5500 people go through the ship, which we are going to improve on,” he said. “We’ve done some fund raising and had good response from organizations. We’ve had some events on board that generated funds for us. We had a very successful Christmas craft show.”

Reopening the Sicamous to weddings has also been a factor in getting things back on an even keel.

“Weddings have been an important event for the Sicamous. I don’t think there was any weddings booked when we took over,” said Hollingsworth.  We had to resurrect that business and that took a fair bit of work.  But we are now getting bookings into 2013, so we’re doing good.

“We’re excited about where we are going. First of all, we are gearing up for a Centennial Celebration in two year’s time  – Victoria Day 2014 will mark 100 years since both the S.S. Naramata and the S.S. Sicamous were launched. We are moving forward with our plan to create a waterfront landmark that Penticton will be proud of in conjunction with the City’s waterfront planning proposals,” said Cooper. “Thanks to the City of Penticton, we are also getting ready to start some needed remedial work on the S.S. Sicamous to correct a problem with leaks that have developed in the deck structure.”

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