Finalized Beban plan awaits council approval

NANAIMO – Revitalization could re-kindle efforts to build an agriplex.

A new vision for one of Nanaimo’s biggest recreational parks could re-kindle efforts to build a $1.8-million agriplex.

The Beban Park Master Plan, a guide for future changes to the 53-hectare recreation campus, is heading to council for the last leg of approval after winning endorsement by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

The updated document has been two years in the making and shows the potential for changes from a new perimeter trail to re-imagined fairgrounds. It’s a “wonderful plan” and one that’s going to make people become enthused about going to the park again, according to Ian Thorpe, acting chairman of the parks and rec commission.

But it could also re-energize efforts of organizations looking to grow on the site, including the Vancouver Island Exhibition. The organization went to city councillors in 2012 with plans to replace four aging barns on the Beban fairgrounds with a $1.8-million heated, multi-purpose agriplex. It requested a long-term lease and $300,000 once financing was in place, but the pitch was turned down in favour of updating the master plan.

The VIEX hasn’t stopped planning, but the master planning process put fundraising efforts on hold, according to Stephen Kass, media liaison and manager of fair operations, who said if the plan is approved the group can begin to pursue funding.

“It definitely put a halt to our dream, but we’re quite enthusiastic that the steps have been taken and we’re crossing our fingers that it will finally get the go-ahead,” said Kass.

An agricultural centre could open up opportunities for other user groups and once built, the rest of the park will also develop, he said.

The VIEX isn’t the only one waiting for the plan’s approval. The Nanaimo Community Gardens Society hopes to make Beban its new home, but is in limbo until council approves the park vision.

Pat Wells, spokeswoman for the society, said her group would add to the farming tone of Beban, which already has the VIEX and Beban Urban Garden Society. There’s also consideration of a year-round farmer’s market – “so it’d be very convenient, sort of an urban agricultural hub,” she said.

The society has until August to vacate its current site on regional district property.

The master plan is expected to go to council this May.