Council agrees to electoral approval, votes to move ahead on events centre in Nanaimo

By Dominic Abassi
December 20, 2016 - 12:30am

An artists rendering of the view out of the Port Drive location

The full list of resolutions adopted by council Monday night

NANAIMO — Residents in the city of Nanaimo will have their say on an events centre, after council voted Monday night to move ahead to the next steps in the project's process.

One of the 11 resolutions recommended by staff and adopted by council directs staff to prepare for "an approval of electors process regarding the financing of the planning and construction of the events centre and provide council with a plan and date options."

"A referendum is essential," said Coun. Diane Brennan, who called for the specific resolution calling for the elector approval to be voted on separately. It passed unanimously.

"I want a referendum. If we go to borrowing, there will be a referendum, and then people will get their say," said Coun. Gord Fuller.

It's unclear when a referendum, or alternate approval process, would happen. A tentative timeline attached to the staff report in Monday's agenda calls for an electoral approval process from February to March, 2017. That would follow a third phase, that would include stakeholder engagement, detailed design, financing and operations framework and would involve a council decision on moving ahead to the public vote.

The list of resolutions outlining the next steps is long and detailed. Number two on the list calls for staff to enter into negotiations with the Western Hockey League (WHL) and a team, that would lead to a memorandum of understanding to have a team play in Nanaimo for the start of the 2017-2018 season.

Also included in the next steps is a call for staff to hire a legal advisor, a financial advisor, a project manager, an events centre management firm, an architect firm, and prepare a financing framework.

Coun. Brennan voiced concern about moving ahead with all of those steps, and their associated costs, before it was even known if the citizens will approve the project. Brennan was the only councillor to vote against moving on to the next phase.

"I don't think it would make sense to go to a referendum without doing this other stuff," said Coun. Jerry Hong. "Because if we don't get a WHL team, I'm not interested in building this. We need an anchor tenant."

Coun. Bill Bestwick said he didn't expect anyone to actually be hired between Monday night and the time that a referendum is held. Not preparing to engage those services would set the timeline behind schedule, Bestwick said.

A staff report shows $495,000 has been spent by the city for phase one and two of the study into the project. The report does not reference how much hiring the other services will cost.

"I get sticker shock every time I look at some of the research required on this project, but it makes absolute perfect sense," said Mayor Bill McKay. "It's impossible to go out to the community and say 'hey do you want to build an events centre?'...the public wants answers to these questions."

"I would say at the end of the day on this potentially $90-million-plus project, we're going to spend a million bucks to answer every last question that the public's got," said McKay.

Phase two of a study carried out by BBB Architects recommends Nanaimo build a "quality facility that provides a first class experience for guests coming to a broad selection of entertainment performances including touring shows, WHL hockey, other quality sports, along with community, educational, and business events."

BBB found that the Port Drive site was favourable compared with the Howard Johnson site, because of the fact the city already owns the south downtown waterfront land and steep slope challenges with the site of the existing hotel.

New development cost estimates in the study show the proposed events centre would range in cost from $69.8 to $86.6-million. The high-end of the estimate includes unique architecture and more concert seats. A consultant told council Monday night that these cost estimates do not include parking over 100 spaces, financing, legal costs and services, roads and other infrastructure.

A consultant hired to summarize all of the public consultation on the proposed events centre produced some persistent themes. During the engagement process, the consultant says the majority of people wanted to know how much the venue will cost. How it will impact property taxes was the major sticking point with those opposed, according to the consultant. The funding model was another serious sticking point.

"Judging by where the respondents stand, Nanaimo residents as a whole are divided on the proposed events centre. The feedback spanned the spectrum from outright enthusiasm to outright opposition in principle," the report from Calder Bateman Communications states.

===

You can view the full phase two report from BBB Architects here.

The report on the public consultation can be viewed here.

'Extraordinarily slick' conditions close portion of Highway 19 for several hours