October 31st, 2020

Japanese Garden hoping visitation increase leads to expansion funds


By Bobinec, Greg on March 6, 2020.

Visitors take in the colours and lights of the Winter Light Festival earlier this season at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

Greg Bobinec

Lethbridge Herald

gbobinec@lethbridgeherald.com

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden saw a large increase in the number of visitors it served over the recent Winter Lights Festival, as almost 17,000 visitors enjoyed the garden. Nikka Yuko hopes it is enough of an attendance spike to show city council there’s a demand for new space.

From the collaboration of local businesses such as California Dream Limousine and the Horse Wagon Rides, Nikka Yuko saw success from the added partnerships, along with a warmer season to enjoy the garden.

“This year, the number of visitors was approximately 17,000. It was a 16-per-cent increase in visitation, but since we started the Winter Lights Festival in 2016, we’ve had a 60-per-cent visitation increase, so I think the positive word has gotten out about the beautiful display here at Japanese Garden,” says Michelle Day, executive director of Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden. “We had really nice weather this year, but what I think contributes to the success of the Winter Lights Festival is our community partnerships. From an economic standpoint, we have teamed up with Cuppers Coffee and Lakeview Bakery and due to our packages, we have sold over 11,000 cookies and coffees.”

As city council is under pressure to reassess financing of large capital projects, due to cutbacks from the provincial government, Nikka Yuko may not be receiving the funding needed to support the expansion of a new community facility and various pathways and extensions to the garden.

Day says it’s a concern for the garden as it is maxed out for space and there’s no facility to organize programming out of the elements on days not suitable to be out in the garden, reducing their profitability.

“Currently Nikka Yuko has maximized their space, and to be able to generate more revenue, we need that space to offer the more packages and more revenue opportunities because right now Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is really reliant on positive weather as well,” says Day. “The (Nikka Yuko) society and the City of Lethbridge over the number of years, we have collaborated, so the Winter Lights Festival is not just about the Nikka Yuko staff, it’s about the City staff, the volunteers all coming together to make this display, programming and collaboration to the max that it can be. If we get the new building and are able to create more of these experiences and collaborations, it is a win-win for our community, for our Henderson Lake users, for our visitors from out of town.”

On busy nights of the festival, Nikka Yuko would see an average of 300 guests in the garden. Since the increase in popularity over the last four years, the Nikka Yuko board is hoping to receive the funding to help support and house the increase of visitors.

“I also think that we have to take a step back and realize the significance that the garden has,” says Day. “If we take a look at our community and the history of our community, the people that do enjoy Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, we have to always remember that it is here to pay tribute, it’s a celebration of people with Japanese ancestry, and I think that is important to recognize.”

Although the successful season of the Winter Lights Festival brought Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden on a high note into the new decade, the board is anxiously awaiting city council’s decision on Monday on possible expansion of the community facility.

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