NANAIMO — A long-time city councillor says it's time to start investing in Nanaimo and a good place to start is with a new sports and entertainment venue.
Work is underway on a $65,000 consultants report studying the feasibility and options for a multiplex in Nanaimo. The consultants have been tasked with reviewing historic reports on the issue, studying potential locations for the venue and laying out possible funding options. One of the financing options included will be a solely city-funded project.
"We have to invest in ourselves, we have to invest in the city in order to advance it to certain levels of expectation," said councillor Bill Bestwick. "Sports and entertainment, recreation, fine arts, all of those things all form a big part of what people would like to see and it does cost money. None of these things are for free."
Bestwick says he's open to looking at all different models to pay for a new venue for the city. He says Nanaimo hasn't spent a lot of money on facility infrastructure and he feels a multiplex is something the city needs. He points out that the city can't live off of the nearly 50-year-old Frank Crane Arena forever.
"I think our population then (when FCA was built) was about 30,000 people. Now we're about 100,000 people so I think this is just called progress."
Bestwick says in the last five years he feels the city has really come around to the concept of spending money to progress the community. He understands people will come out against the concept of funding a new venue. He says they can and will continue to spend money every year to maintain facilities like Frank Crane, but it's just not enough.
A staff report from 2013 found almost all city-funded multiplex venues required annual operating subsidies. An annual report shows the Abbotsford Centre recorded a deficit of $1.24-million in 2015. Langley's mayor told the Vancouver Sun in May that their township continues to fund the Langley Events Centre to the tune of $1-2 million annually. Construction costs vary -- the 5,000-seat Prospera Centre in Chilliwack was built for $22-million in 2004. The Langley venue came with a $56-million price tag in 2009.
Nanaimo's chief financial officer Victor Mema says in his view, the best case scenario should involve value for money spent. He says once they have the report he will be interested to see how a venue can be built with current resources, by shifting money around in the budget instead of simply adding to it. Mema says Nanaimo is in a very good position to take on debt. He says for a $60-million facility, you'd be looking at an annual payment of about $2.7-million, something that would make sense financially to him.
"It starts with how you define value for money. Yes, it's not supposed to lose money. On the other hand, the intent is not for it to make money. It is to provide a public service," said Mema, talking about the concept of an annual operating subsidy that would likely be a reality. He says adding debt servicing and an annual subsidy woudn't automatically mean an increase in taxes, pointing to the possibility of debt servicing grants.
B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation Jordan Bateman, who was a member of Langley council when they built their centre, says none of the different multiplex venues around the province make money. He says these things are kind of "pipe dreams", expected to spur on economic activity around the venue.
"Given Nanaimo's track record with the convention centre...I'd strongly recommend taxpayers let their mayor and council know they're not interested in Nanaimo trying to run an arena as well," said Bateman. "If there are private business interests in town who think this is such a wonderful, slam-dunk project, let's see them put their money on the line first."
Bestwick says he's excited to get his hands on the report being authored by BBB Architects. It's expected to be finished by the end of the month or early November. The consultant is also expected to study potential locations around Nanaimo, including the city-owned downtown waterfront Wellcox land and the Howard Johnson site.
"Do we need to start contemplating an events centre for future generations? Absolutely," said Bestwick.