NANAIMO — It wasn't even close.
By a stunning margin, Nanaimo voters rejected the City's proposal to spend $80 million of taxpayers' money on an events centre.
Eighty per cent of the nearly 24,000 ballots cast in Saturday's referendum opposed authorizing the borrowing, according to preliminary results.
"I didn't suspect there would be a positive vote, however I'm surprised it's this high," mayor Bill McKay said. "They're telling us not at this time, absolutely not."
The resounding decision followed five months of hurried work by City staff, contentious debate among citizens and nearly $800,000 worth of taxpayers' money spent on consultants, reports, community engagement and the referendum itself.
During the lead-up to the vote, members of the community often took aim at Council's ability to handle such a massive project.
"We have not been able to come together as a council. We continue to have really fractious relationships," coun. Diane Brennan said. "So long as that's happening, I don't think the community would be willing to put $80 million into our hands."
McKay said he'd hoped for a "decisive" result.
"There's nothing worse than a squeaker, such as the (Vancouver Island) conference centre...councils and the community pay for the performance of that project for years," McKay said. "Even though it was four councils ago, we still bear the responsibility of that decision."
He said the "enormity" of the events centre proposal made people wary of putting "all their eggs into this basket."
"I voted in favour and it's disappointing we can't move forward," coun. Jerry Hong said. "This is a resounding decision by the community. Council and everybody else will live with it and we will move on."
Hong said the work done leading up to the vote was "not a total waste," adding the studies can be updated in the future if the project is ever revisited again.
Approval of the downtown waterfront events centre would have delivered a Western Hockey League team to Nanaimo, meaning the end of the 45-year tenure of the Clippers.
Clippers head coach and general manager Mike Vandekamp said his club was watching the result closely.
"The no vote gives us hope for a bright future here in Nanaimo," Vandekamp said. "We're already looking forward to icing an exciting, competitive team next season."
He pointed out there is still work to be done, as the Clippers and City need to negotiate a new lease deal for Frank Crane Arena.
Voter turnout was 35.3 per cent, according to chief election officer Sheila Gurrie. Results are preliminary and will be declared official early this week.
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