Nanaimo councillors offer their thoughts on events centre concept

By Dominic Abassi
November 16, 2016 - 5:53pm Updated: November 17, 2016 - 9:42am
A concept picture of the Howard Johnson site
A concept picture of the Howard Johnson site

NANAIMO — Councillors are offering their opinion on a new sports and entertainment venue for Nanaimo, as phase two of a study on the concept gets underway.

On Monday night, phase one of the study was presented to the public for the first time. Consultants BBB Architects estimate the price for the multiplex, depending on number of seats and amenities, will be in the $62-million to $83-million range. A new report is expected to be ready for council in time for the Dec. 19 public meeting. At that time, Nanaimo's chief financial officer Victor Mema says councillors will be faced with a decision point on if this is happening or not.

Here is what several councillors told NanaimoNewsNOW:

Coun. Wendy Pratt (via email)

"I have many concerns regarding the events centre proposal but my biggest one is the cost. When I agreed to this as a priority I was still thinking of it in terms of a private developer and I would still be in favour under those circumstances.  But taxpayers footing the entire bill was never in my thoughts and never will be."

"This feels like it has taken on a life of its own rather quickly, as if there is some urgent deadline. If the majority of council gives it a green light using taxpayer dollars then I would suggest it needs to go to referendum. We have no right to commit that much without a clear mandate to do so. To be clear, my thought has always been this would be done with the majority of the costs put up through private investment."

Coun. Bill Bestwick

Speaking about his reaction to the initial BBB report: "I think the right size for Nanaimo is 5,400 to 5,800 fixed seats...of course you can put another 1,200 on the floor for a concert."

On how the multiplex will be paid for: "Frank Crane Arena needs to be replaced...for me it's that inter-generational citizen that's going to ultimately end up paying for improved infrastructure and facilities and that just makes sense to me. Yes, the community has to pay for it, yes the taxpayers will ultimately end up paying for it. Nobody's knocking our door down to build a $60-$80-million events centre in Nanaimo and nobody will. So if we would like to get into the 21st century with attractions and replacement facilities...for me it just makes sense but I enjoy events and what those facilities can provide to every man, woman and child in the future."

Coun. Jerry Hong

Does he feel Nanaimo needs a multiplex to this scale: "I fully agree we need something. We're the only municipality this size in B.C. that doesn't have a facility like this."

If he feels there is enough time between now and Dec. 19 to gauge the public's feeling on the project: "I think to make an informed decision we need more information and this is what I'm hoping this phase two study will bring. So we can either say let's keep moving forward and get more information and bring this to the public, or we're going to say this is not acceptable or we can't make this work and the deal is done."

Coun. Diane Brennan

On the initial BBB report: "What it lacked was a solid business plan. We don't know how this would be built, we don't know who would build it or where the money would come from. My preference would be that we use a large accounting firm...and put together a business plan we could work from."

Does Nanaimo need something like a multiplex: "For me, the jewel in Nanaimo is our waterfront. I'd like to see smaller projects that really enhance the waterfront and city and our citizen's experience of Nanaimo."

On the amount of time allotted for public consultation: "I don't think it's enough time. It's a little rushed...the citizens of Nanaimo really like to take their time when they're making these kinds of decisions. For me, whatever route we take on this, we need to commit that we will do a referendum, that the people will have their say. For me, that's absolutely paramount."

Coun. Ian Thorpe

On his opinion of the concept of a multiplex for Nanaimo: "It certainly is something we need to take the next step on but there's so many unanswered questions at this point beyond that. Does Nanaimo need this or want this at this point? I don't know. I think it would be a great draw and benefit to the city, but I want to know how much it's going to cost and who's going to pay for it."

If he would be willing to enter into a publicly funded operation: "I would have to look long and hard at a totally publicly funded operation. If we're talking $80-$90-million and then operating costs and paying off debt, I would really have to be convinced that it is worthwhile for the city. If that was to be the case, I would certainly consider the idea of taking it to referendum."

On the apparent feeling of urgency surrounding the idea right now: "I'm sensing there is this urgency, at the same time that makes me a little bit wary. Listening to Mr. Green was very exciting and everything sounds very rosy, but at the same time you're listening to a salesman. We're all aware of being told you better act quickly or the deal won't be there...I don't want to be pushed, I don't want to be rushed, not for the amount of money we're talking about."

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There will be a public meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Nov. 24 at the Beban Park Social Centre, followed by subsequent meetings on Dec. 1 and Dec. 8, according to a city of Nanaimo release.

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