Conference centre seeks support

NANAIMO – Vancouver Island Conference Centre general manager wants more positive narrative about facility.

More time needs to be spent promoting the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, according to Mayor Bill McKay.

“If you can’t get excited about it then how can anybody else? And I’m guilty of it myself,” he said.

Nanaimo city politicians – some of whom have been openly critical of the Vancouver Island Conference Centre – were asked to support the facility by general manager Denise Tacon during a public presentation last week.

The facility has seen negative press supersede the positive almost every year since it opened in 2008 and “in the public forum it has cost us,” according to Tacon, who hopes councillors will help show off the centre, build the business and change the narrative.

“We are asking council and the people of this community, particularly those that have not been fond of us in the past to come together and court the idea that if we look after our assets, speak well of them, foster a sense of pride at what they can do then the possibilities for them to flourish are endless,” Tacon said. “People need people to help each other and it’s just as simple as that.”

The conference centre hasn’t been without its critics.

Taxpayers pay more than $900,000 annually in operating subsidies and the facility has gone over its budget four times since its first full year in 2009 including by $95,700 in 2014.

The mayor previously said it’s time to consider making decisions on the centre, with community disappointment in its performance and concerns about ever-increasing subsidies, while Coun. Gord Fuller alerted council in January to a motion for non-binding expressions of interest for the centre, including repurposing, selling or leasing the space.

After Tacon’s speech, McKay said while it’s still important to ask questions and work to improve the centre’ performance, he agrees with the request for changing the narrative and support.

Fuller, however doesn’t think council has been too critical of the centre and that it’s given more support than it’s needed.

“I stand by using the excuse of bad press to justify poor performance, that’s just ludicrous,” he said. “The city has gone way overboard in trying to help support it. They have meetings there. We use the Shaw Auditorium for council meetings, other community events that are held by the city are held at the conference centre. I don’t know what more we can do.”

He plans to revive a notice of motion to get expression of interest in the building.