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Nanaimo councillor says Port Drive ready for development

Nanaimo City Hall. - News Bulletin File
Nanaimo City Hall.
— image credit: News Bulletin File

Borrowing for a sports and entertainment centre on the south industrial waterfront has been nixed, but that land is ready for development, according to city Coun. Jim Kipp.

More than 80 per cent of voters rejected borrowing up to $80 million for an event centre in a referendum, prompting city council to discuss at Monday’s council meeting the land, next steps and whether the event centre will be revisited before the next election.

There was a record 35.3 per cent voter turnout in the election, with the highest numbers at the advanced polls and McGirr and Departure Bay elementary schools, the final results show.

Bestwick said he thought the vote had much to do with the conference centre, while Coun. Ian Thorpe said he thought it was a rushed process, largely due to the Western Hockey League, and that worked against it.

The project had been proposed for 1 Port Dr. which the city purchased in 2013 with plans for a transit hub. The South Downtown Waterfront Initiative came up with a community vision for the waterfront lands.

A master plan specifically for the city-owned site is still in the works, the city website shows.

The property is now ready for development with a cultural and archaeological report, geotechnical report, servicing plans and “transportation thoughts, according to Kipp, who hopes someone understands its potential. Coun. Gord Fuller said the city has one of the best relationships with the Snuneymuxw it’s had in years and will involve them, as well as neighbourhood associations, in discussions about the south downtown waterfront.

“Yes, it won’t have an event centre on it, but I’ll fight tooth and nail that it doesn’t have three acres of pavement on it either, transit hub be dammed,” Fuller said.

Coun. Bill Yoachim said it’s time to reconcile differences, come together as one and discuss best uses for those lands, which can’t stay the way they are.

Thorpe also doesn’t want to see the land remain as it is, calling it the last beautiful waterfront property and that they have to be careful moving forward with how it’ll be used. He wants to see the waterfront initiative ideas used as a starting place.

Thorpe said council has heard a definitive message, not just with the event centre, but the lack of trust in council’s ability to show good governance and good behavior, adding he hopes it’s a lesson taken to heart.

Thorpe also said he feels so much time has gone to the event centre project that other things have naturally been put on the back burner.

“I really look forward, as we move ahead, to hopefully hearing what the people of Nanaimo want to see us concentrate on, moving ahead with smaller projects and issues we can tackle at much lower prices, issues to do with safety and infrastructure,” he said.

Bestwick said he assumes council will recognize and acknowledge what the community has told them, pull up their “big boy pants” and take the criticism levied against them and him personally for the direction they chose to go and work toward something assumably the community told them it wants.

“Let’s move on together, let’s do something that’s good and grandiose and whatever the people in the community thinks this city needs,” he said.

As for the event centre, if a different model doesn’t come forward, Bestwick doesn’t think council will have conversations about one before the next civic election perhaps longer.

Yoachim said an events centre is not in his game plan for the next 18 months and he respects what citizens have said loud and clear.

Coun. Jerry Hong said if a private developer says it is going to build it wherever, it’s not over.

“Are we going to actively pursue taxpayers’ money at this point in time? No,” he said. “But it’s not over, if somebody comes forward with a plan that’s great and it’s not costing taxpayers and people like the idea, then it’s not over.”

A memorandum of understanding with the Western Hockey League has been terminated with the referendum precedent not being met, according to city manager Tracy Samra.

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