A federal funding agency in Cape Breton said Tuesday its plan to build a new marina — while tearing down the old yacht club in Sydney — will generate tens of millions of dollars for the local economy.

But critics say Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation's plan will only benefit a select group of wealthy people.

The Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, also known as ECBC, purchased the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club building on the Sydney waterfront and plans to demolish it.

At the same time, the corporation is spending $4 million to build a new marina located about 20 kilometres from Sydney.

"We thought it's probably time we came out and addressed both of those issues," said Marlene Usher, the CEO of the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation.

Usher said the Ben Eoin Marina on the Bras d'Or Lakes already has a waiting list, even though it won't open until later this year.

"I guess it depends if you like to sail in Sydney Harbour or the Bras d'Or Lakes. If you're a sailor or a boater, they're two different experiences. I guess it's more popular in the Bras d'Or Lakes," she said.

Critics have questioned the business case for the new marina, suggesting it will cater to the wealthy while generating few economic benefits for the rest of the community.

'This is not about providing services to elite people'

Darrell Cormier, the acting commodore of the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club, has said the building was sold to the Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation after financial difficulties and declining membership left the club with little choice.

Cormier said the 113-year-old building needs an estimated $2 million in renovations.

Bob Doucette was part of a group that tried to get federal funding for a marina in Ingonish a few years ago. He said ECBC told him the corporation doesn't fund marinas.

"There's only a certain amount of money to be spent on Cape Breton Island and that pot, roughly, has gotten about $20 million smaller in the last seven, eight years," said Doucette.

But Usher said the Ben Eoin Marina is part of a much bigger development that includes a nearby ski hill and golf course and has the potential to bring millions of dollars in tourism and new jobs to the island.

"This is not about providing services to elite people," she said.

"This is providing a resort for the general public and for tourists to have experiential tourism so that when people come to Cape Breton Island — which is a mecca in terms of tourism — that they have another location to go to."

Usher said the development at Ben Eoin includes new housing subdivisions with room for a hilltop hotel. She said the development has the potential to generate tens of millions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of new jobs.