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Exhibition grounds ‘heart’ of park under draft guidelines for Beban

Nanaimo’s exhibition grounds could be transformed into the “heart” of Beban Park with food trucks, multi-purpose buildings and an amphitheatre, a draft master plan reveals.

A draft plan has just been released for one of Nanaimo’s largest recreational parks, showcasing the potential for development over the next two decades.

For the past year, city staff members have collected a community wish list for the 53-hectare campus. The draft includes possibilities from way-finding signs to a perimeter walking trail, agricultural complex and expanded dog park. At the heart of it all is a potential gathering place and transformed exhibition park, where people could find a “grand avenue” of permanent vendors, food trucks and even buskers, as well as an amphitheatre and stage, multi-purpose buildings and greenhouses.

Right now the exhibition grounds divide the campus, according to the Kirsty MacDonald, the city’s parks and open space planner, who says people aren’t encouraged to walk through the site and often have to drive around it to get to other amenities.

The plan includes an extension of the Beban roadway as well as access to parking and new amenities. It would become a hub rather than something to go around, MacDonald said.

“There’s a few events a year at the VIEX grounds and [the] goal would have it become more of the heart of the campus with more events, facilities for events … and a place people would feel comfortable walking through,” she said, adding there could be walking trails and signage letting people know what’s available on the campus. “Most people don’t realize all the amenities are part of Beban Park because there’s a bit of a void in the middle.”

The Beban Park Master Plan was launched in 2012 when the Vancouver Island Exhibition asked city council to support construction of a $1.8-million agriplex to replace aging barns. City politicians opted to first revamp the master plan, which hadn’t been updated since 1997.

The new plan’s proposed central gathering place does include space for the agricultural complex if VIEX pursues the idea. Greenhouses have also been sketched in for the Nanaimo Community Gardens Society.

“[We] tried to keep the plan broad, so it’s flexible and can meet changing community needs but still shows tangibles like the covered space and greenhouses for the Nanaimo Community Gardens [Society],” MacDonald said.

Coun. Ted Greves, who sits on the Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission, said the plan is just a vision, but he’s pleased with the layout.

Open houses will be held in September to get the public feedback on the draft master plan.

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