Joy Bremner

Joy Bremner

Beban Park redevelopment one step closer

NANAIMO – Groups can start fundraising, signing lease agreements at Beban Park.

ONE of Nanaimo’s largest recreational parks is one step closer to getting new amenities.

A year ago plans for the ‘heart’ of Nanaimo’s Beban Park was a sketch in a city plan; an idea of what the exhibition grounds could become. Now six Nanaimo groups with a vision for redevelopment have won approval-in-principle for their concepts and permission from politicians to start negotiating leases with the City of Nanaimo.

The Indigenous Peoples Place of Culture, Vancouver Island Exhibition, Nanaimo Equestrian Association and Island Roots Market Co-operative pitched a vision for the city’s recreational park earlier this year, with features like a riding rings, an agriplex, indoor farmers’ market and a cultural centre with childcare and classrooms received wide-spread support during an open house in August, a city summary of public input shows.

Council’s recent move to give early approval to development concepts and direct staff to draft leases is the most monumental step so far, says Whelm King, vice-president of Island Roots Co-operative, whose group can now start fundraising, negotiate lease terms and get into the plans of what the new indoor market will look like.

“This is really the first key linchpin where the council actually put the rubber on the road and goes, ‘we support this project, start making it happen,’” said King. “The park is already an amazing space but the elements that we’re going to be bringing into it are going to bring a level of interconnection into the community and vibrancy and just activity.”

Island Roots isn’t the only organization at the park that will need to fundraise. Asked if it will be a challenge, King said it’s hoped not and the groups are quite disparate.

Chris Beaton, executive director of Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre – one of three organizations behind the Indigenous Peoples Place of Culture – said it’s very exciting to be at this point. Architectural plans have begun, the organizations will build and better develop capital and operational budgets, and negotiate lease terms with the city.

The building, which will have a cultural hall, licensed childcare spaces, classrooms and a youth centre, is budgeted so far at $14 million, and conversations have already started with provincial and federal governments around funding, according to Beaton.

The indigenous centre is also required by council to get letters of support from the Snuneymuxw and indigenous organizations.

Beaton sees the centre helping to drive up use of Beban Park and allowing a growing indigenous community to come together and have conversations with the non-indigenous community. He doesn’t know that members of his group planned to be this far along and this quickly, but neither are they surprised because of the conversation around reconciliation and the history of indigenous peoples.

“I think what’s happening around us, the bigger picture, supports these types of initiatives and builds the support that’s required to move it forward,” he said.