A proposed ocean centre has received support in principle from Nanaimo city council. (Image contributed)

Ocean Discovery Centre proponents eye Nanaimo’s publicly owned waterfront

City of Nanaimo will look into feasibility of Ocean Discovery Centre at 1 Port Dr.

Nanaimo Deep Discovery Association plans to open the doors of an estimated $50-million Ocean Discovery Centre in three years and sees the city’s Port Drive property as the ideal location to host it.

The association presented its business plan to city council Monday with interest in 1 Port Dr. becoming the home of the proposed centre, a facility that could have features like touch tank aquariums, a virtual reality shark cage thrill attraction and a $10-million moving theatre similar to Soar over Canada.

Nanaimo unanimously agreed to have staff investigate the feasibility of the location and have the centre included in public engagement for the property.

The location, 1 Port Dr., was most recently pegged for a proposed multimillion-dollar entertainment centre, which failed in a referendum.

The association bills Ocean Discovery Centre as a world-class attraction with experiences around deep sea technology, marine ecology and First Nations history. It’s anticipated to bring in 70,000 one-day visitors a year, generate an estimated $171 million throughout the local economy with initial construction and have benefits like environmental sustainability, revitalization of Nanaimo’s downtown core and tourism, the business plan shows.

Nanaimo Deep Discovery Association hopes to get the majority of its funding, or $45 million, from the provincial and federal governments and a ‘mortgage or loan free’ land lease from the city for the 1,000-square metre site.

Tim Tessier, association vice president, sees this facility working at the 1 Port Dr. site because it compliments the waterfront and isn’t a significant structure, adding it has a design inspired by a jelly fish and it’s dynamic. The facility can also be used by all the citizenry of Nanaimo as well as visitors.

He said Nanaimo has beautiful parkland but not a waterfront community gathering spot.

“That’s what we’re trying to achieve …we want to make this part of the fabric of our downtown revitalization,” he said. “In order to do that, you want to bring it into the existing promenade and walkways.”

Coun. Bill Bestwick made the motion on the location, which he said gives proponents a level of comfort to know council is supportive conditionally and in principle to the waterfront site known as 1 Port Dr. for the initiative.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he always thought it was an extremely exciting project and one that has great potential to benefit Nanaimo. He looks forward to staff working with the group to look at the site, take it to the next step and move things ahead “as quickly as possible.”

The centre has come along way since its infancy in North Vancouver when it was first proposed as a static museum, according to Mayor Bill McKay, who says it’s taken the best of the best ideas and is now going to be interactive, will have a greater component to it and First Nations history.

“It’s going to have all of those things that make, what I can see, a successful tourism attraction,” he said.

Council’s decision was a ‘sigh of relief’ for Tessier and yet he said work has just begun. The association has to justify and do its due diligence for the community. The board met Tuesday (May 16) to map out the next few weeks after which, on June 19, it plans to ask council for a memorandum of understanding for the land.

“[Council] got a check mark in my opinion and I think our city really needs it, too,” Tessier said. “We’ve been beat up as a community for far too long and we need to have some feel-good stuff that makes sense.”

Tessier said he encourages people to take a look at plans or outlines of the land and imagine a destination tourism centre like theirs, complimented with village shops and cafes and then residential and commercial surrounding it.

“It will change our city like we cannot imagine,” he said. “As a board with the Nanaimo Deep Discovery Association we have committed business people that are willing to go out and do all of the heavy lifting.”