Events centre wrong fit for downtown Nanaimo waterfront land, community group says

By Dominic Abassi
December 11, 2016 - 1:08pm Updated: December 11, 2016 - 1:39pm

Photo credit: Google Maps

NANAIMO — An events centre doesn't belong on city-owned downtown waterfront land, according to an association representing a nearby area in the south-end of Nanaimo.

The South End Community Association (SECA) has issued a statement, outlining their group's unanimous and strong opposition to a proposed events centre being built on the Wellcox property at 1 Port Drive.

A consultant studying the feasibility of the project suggested the two most ideal locations for a new sports and entertainment facility in Nanaimo -- the Port Drive land or the Howard Johnson property.

"We invested in the South Downtown Waterfront Initiative," said SECA board member Sydney Robertson. "It's kind of infuriating that it's being ignored. There was good public consultation there."

Robertson says through all of the extensive consultation that went into preparing a vision and guiding principals for the site, a clear message was delivered that it's not the place for a multiplex. She says the consistent vision was for something that would be "truly active and vibrant 365 days a year."

"An events centre, no matter how big the artist is who comes in or how exciting the hockey team, it is not going to be an active, vibrant place 365 days a year...it's a space that should get used by all of us, everyone in the city."

The city undertook a lengthy and thorough process to create a vision for future use of the 10.8 hectares of mostly industrial land purchased for $3.4-million in 2013. A committee was formed, with an $80,000 budget to put towards creating a comprehensive guiding document. A Harbour Fair, attended by more than 300 people, a speaker series and a design charrette were all part of the effort to gather feedback from the community.

Robertson says at the design charrette all four of the groups were offered the option to include a multiplex in their vision and none did.

Coun. Bill Bestwick says people are welcome to have their opinions on what should and shouldn't go where and that's all part of the process happening now.

"What we do know is that conventional wisdom says if you're going to have an events centre then you should put it in your downtown core," said Bestwick.

Bestwick says there's only so many places downtown in a "linear" city like Nanaimo.

"Right now it's an industrial site. So is that the right place or the wrong place? Well I know it's a place that will get developed one day and I'm sure there will be opinions shared...and disagreements on whatever gets put there."

While the final 32-page guiding document for the future of the south downtown waterfront doesn't include any specific mention of a multiplex being a good option for land use, it also doesn't say that one doesn't belong there.

The report calls for the creation of a place "where street level activity is encouraged, and where mixed use developments frame the street in a modest scale that fits Nanaimo and the site. Across most of the area, development should be, at most, 4 to 6 storeys in height, and focused on creating and celebrating well-functioning neighbourhoods."

There's also mention of land use that attracts the largest number of people and jobs to the area. A transit hub and a mix of residential and commercial buildings were among the concepts initially discussed when the city bought the land.

Nanaimo council is set to receive phase two of the study into the events centre concept on Dec. 19. At that time, it's expected a vote will be held on whether to move ahead with the project or not.

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You can read the full South Downtown Waterfront Initiative report here.

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