Consultants recommend Nanaimo council support $86-million entertainment centre

NANAIMO – City council scheduled to consider feasibility report and public feedback during Monday night meeting.

City of Nanaimo consultants recommend a top-of-the-line sports and entertainment centre for $86.6 million, with “one of the strongest and most consistent opinions” in the public engagement process being that if the city moves ahead with the centre, it should be first-class.

But a new public engagement report also shows a significant number of people don’t want to pay for it.

Nanaimo city council was expected to make a decision after press time Monday on staff recommendations that involve moving ahead with a timeline, preparations for an approval of electors process and negotiations with the Western Hockey League for a team.

The City of Nanaimo released the second phase of a more than $240,000 feasibility study into the centre and results of public engagement on its website at the end of the day Friday.

Consultants Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects’ latest work shows more cost details, including that a higher-end project would cost almost $4 million more than originally projected, as well as information on locations and economic benefits.

The recommendation is for the city to pursue a “one-of-a-kind, made-in Nanaimo public assembly community centre,” with 23,680 square feet of additional guest services, such as multi-purpose rooms for recreation and meetings, beyond the original 120,000 square feet.

Consultants say one of the strongest, and most consistent opinions in the public engagement process is that if the city moves forward with the centre it should be programmed, designed and constructed as a first-class facility.

It also shows a Western Hockey League team means no need for an annual city subsidy of less than $50,000 for the centre’s first two years and in the third year, there would be a better than break-even number in net profit with the centre grossing more $3 million. More than 400 full-time jobs would also be created in the construction phase.

The best site, consultants say, is the city-owned 1 Port Dr. because it is owned by the city whereas negotiations for an agreement with the Howard Johnson site to develop the event centre have just started and the city will incur additional costs to secure new lands at that site.

The city also released results of its public engagement, which included surveys and open houses.

Overall, the report says the community is divided about the centre.

“There are those who believe such a facility is necessary if the city is to realize its potential and others who think an event centre would be an utter waste of money, a ‘bauble’ that Nanaimo can’t afford,” said the report, prepared by Calder Bateman Communications. “From what we heard – whether through the public engagement sessions, the various surveys, or other engagement instruments – a lot of people are looking for some answers before making up their minds.”

While the report doesn’t include open house attendees’ preference for location, in a phone survey, 46.2 per cent indicated high support for the entertainment centre at the Howard Johnson site as opposed to 34.2 per cent for 1 Port Dr. The phone survey polled 500 people Nov. 29-Dec. 4 with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The report also showed people didn’t want to see funding for the centre come from their pockets and there was palpable concern a project of this size would inevitably raise property taxes. The project had been initially pegged to cost between $62-$83 million.

In the phone survey, people were provided with two guided responses to pay for the centre – a mix of public and private funds and public funds only – and the mixed model was favored by 62.8 per cent of respondents. While not offered as an option, 15.8 per cent wanted private funds only. In public engagement sessions with about 400 people, arguably the most popular choice was private funds only, according to the engagement report.

The private group behind a multiplex proposal at the Howard Johnson site cannot be reached for comment.

To read the report, please click here.