Bids being accepted for tourist destination in Canada’s capital

Companies want to send tourists to winery as new rail line would take visitors to the site of Canadian confederation

Big money is willing to step in to do what more than two-dozen property groups have been unable to do: build a tourist attraction in Canada’s capital.

Bids are being accepted from the tourism, business and government sectors to build “a new visitor experience focused on winemaking and the history of making wine”, according to the Federal Crown land bid program.

It is a massive and historical break for proponents of the project, which advocates for a rail line that would open the city to tourists. The project would take visitors past the current railway tracks and through the site of the Canadian confederation, an event in 1867 when Canada was created out of British, French and Indian colonies and the foundation of today’s Confederation.

“We’re putting a major attraction to showcase Canada for the world,” said Andrew Cohen, a lobbyist who also runs the Canadian Experience Alliance in Ottawa, a non-profit that has been working to bring the winery to Canada’s capital.

The Crown land bid program is a vehicle that creates opportunities for large corporations to build tourist attractions with state support. The most recent one includes a contest for the naming rights to a new stadium in Toronto, set to open in 2020.

The rail project, with an estimated value of $400m, had been in limbo after decades of delays and years of billowing smoke. In 2010, a previous Conservative government announced the $50m rail line would be built to promote wine in Ottawa, but the transport ministry would not fund it.

Ottawa MP Mauril Belanger died after rail line facing $500m construction setback Read more

Belanger, a Montreal Liberal MP who died in May, had pushed for the project. His legacy is being maintained by Cohen, his longtime friend.

The project is being bankrolled by Bernardo Goldberg, the son of former Quebec premier Jean Lapierre, with government support. The former Canadian prime minister Paul Martin signed on as a “get started adviser”, and Cohen said he spoke recently with the prime minister’s office.

The centrepiece of the winery is a transportation hall highlighting Canada’s railway and its place in the world. Thousands of wine-loving visitors could be enticed to visit the site and also visit the former confederation and the Ottawa’s parliament buildings.

Cohen said he was heartened that the existing Liberals have shown they are open to the project. He said he is hopeful the Conservatives might again back the project.

“We are against big government, and we think we’ve made a very persuasive case and there’s definitely some evidence to suggest that the Trudeau administration is open to that,” Cohen said.

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