Councillors call for report about conference centre

NANAIMO – Council wants funding options for an updated review of the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

It is time to consider making decisions on the conference centre, according to Mayor Bill McKay, who says there’s community disappointment in its performance and concerns about ever-increasing subsidies.

City staff members will look into funding for an updated evaluation of the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, which is slated to come up in 2015 budget talks.

During a Committee of the Whole meeting last week, civic politicians scrapped a staff recommendation to get a $25,000 independent analysis and partial update of a 2004 market feasibility study.

Suzanne Samborski, the city’s senior manager of culture and heritage, said the work would have looked at industry trends, demand projects and what council could expect over the next five years, pointing out the last update was done prior to the economic downturn in 2008 and accounted for a hotel. However, council opted to postpone the issue until budget discussions and have city staff members look at funding options for an updated evaluation.

McKay told the News Bulletin there’s no reason the city can’t do its own internal review. He also says it’s timely to look into the conference centre with a potential hotel operator that’s interested in operating the civic facility but is currently working through the hotel building process.

“I think it’s time to look at perhaps making some decisions about that building,” he said. “If we find out, for example, that building is twice as big as it needs to be or two-thirds bigger than it should be than maybe we can repurpose part of that building because regardless of how big it is, as it stands right now, if you are only ever occupying half of the building then why don’t you put the other half to work?”

Coun. Bill Yoachim, who made the motion to bring up the centre in budget talks, said the dynamic and climate has changed since the last report in 2004 and he wants a fresh perspective on best uses and demand. What’s happening today isn’t sustainable or fair to taxpayers, he said.

The latest operating results from the City of Nanaimo shows the Vancouver Island Conference Centre is expected to post a $102,000 deficit at the end of the year, thanks to fewer bookings and lower than anticipated revenue. Since its first full year in 2009, the centre has gone over budget three times and taxpayers have paid more than $900,000 annually in operating subsidies.