Rink review: Private group silent on its plans for multiplex at Howard Johnson

Nanaimo residents are less than a month away from casting a ballot on a proposed event centre with no sign of a private partner and a lingering question of what happened to the Howard Johnson investors who pitched a multiplex in the first place.

The ownership group of the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel made public its plans for a multimillion-dollar hotel and 5,000-seat multiplex arena a year before Nanaimo city council named an event centre a strategic priority.

The company has been silent on what happened with its proposal and unresponsive to multiple requests for an interview.

Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay said the last he heard of the ownership group was when it met the Friday before the announcement.

Dan Brady, general manager of the Howard Johnson hotel in Nanaimo, and hotel owner Brian Martin met with the mayor and senior staff in June 2015 about the Millstone Gateway project. At the time, Brady said he came away from the meeting feeling good and that the city appeared to support the proposal. McKay said the city wanted to see the company gauge public opinion on the project by putting up a website.

He liked the idea no public funding was required, saying “they might ask us to move some sewer lines, but that’s it.”

Last year, when city council named a multiplex a strategic priority, Brady hoped the city wanted to do some sort of public-private partnership and was going to try to schedule a meeting.

Victor Mema, city chief financial officer, said if there are questions about the Howard Johnson meeting with the city it should be directed to the Howard Johnson and the city cannot speak for a private interest.

McKay said he’s not sure if staff was ever approached by the Howard Johnson ownership group last year and doesn’t recall meeting with them from a council point of view or getting an invitation.

What happened has to be asked of the Howard Johnson, he said.

“They were gung-ho and then the owner of the company passed away and it may very well be that they are refocusing their business efforts,” said McKay.

When asked if he tried to find out what happened, he said he doesn’t know how real it was from the beginning.

“It’s a huge project and ... it appeared to me that the owners of that property would need to take on some pretty strong partners in order to make a project like that work and I didn’t know if it was within their capability.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe is not aware of anyone reaching out to the private developer to ask about an interest in partnering.

“I don’t know it’s incumbent on us to be reaching out, but having said that, I know a lot of people are asking the same question you are and that is what happened to the private interests, why is that no longer there? I don’t have an answer.”

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