An artist’s conceptual drawing suggests what a sports and entertainment centre could look like in Nanaimo.

2016 Year in Review: City of Nanaimo moves forward with multiplex

NANAIMO – City staff advised proceeding with talks for WHL team and
preparing for elector approval process

There had been murmurs about a Nanaimo multiplex, but now it’s become a dominant discussion.

In 2016, a sports and event centre went from a private proposal to a strategic priority, and in 2017 the city will continue to advance plans.

In June of 2015, Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel pitched the idea of a privately funded multiplex at its site on the corner of Comox Road and Terminal Avenue. Councillors were receptive to the plan and accommodating, allowing the hotelier to relocate its liquor store to Brooks Landing.

This past summer, prompted by a core services review recommendation to clarify council’s vision, councillors released a list of five priority projects, one of which was a sports and entertainment centre.

Following public engagement, council approved in September $200,000 to begin conceptualizing its strategic priorities, and in mid-November, the city was presented with the first phase of an events centre feasibility study. Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects identified two potential locations – the Howard Johnson site, and city-owned land on the south downtown waterfront – and presented concept illustrations of a multiplex ranging in cost from $62-83 million. There were no indications of how the costs would be shared, and no comment from the Howard Johnson group.

The project has only moved forward since then. More public engagement, including open houses and a telephone survey, was conducted in time to be included in the second phase of the feasibility study. City council was advised by consultants to proceed with planning for an $86.6-million multiplex and voted to take the next steps, including negotiating with the Western Hockey League, hiring a management firm and preparing for an elector-approval process. Council and city staff have suggested that there will be opportunities to pursue private investment in the project, but there have been no assurances and no public-private funding models presented.

The city spent $495,000 on the feasibility study and there will be further costs associated with the elector-approval process, likely a referendum.

An events centre is a top priority for city council and it’s become a top-of-mind issue for citizens, too.

There are major decisions still to be made, however, before any major junior hockey or any concerts start rocking a Nanaimo multiplex.

Waterfront site suggested for location

The south downtown waterfront would look a whole lot different with a multiplex.

The area was highlighted by city council this past summer as one of its top five strategic priorities, but its development, in 2017 or beyond, will be dependent on a lot of factors, including a multiplex.

City-owned land at 1 Port Dr. was identified by consultants as one of the two best sites for a 5,700-seat sports and entertainment complex. But Nanaimo’s south-end community association spoke out against the multiplex proposal earlier this month, suggesting that the South Downtown Waterfront Initiative’s discussions have focused on mixed residential and retail use, arts and culture and transportation.

Previous discussions around the waterfront property had centred on a possible transit hub, for buses or passenger rail, proximate to the cruise ship terminal and potential foot-ferry service.

The Snuneymuxw First Nation is an interested party, as the land is part of its traditional territory. Band council came before Nanaimo council in February, asking that the two governments work together with regards to the south industrial waterfront lands.

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