Foot ferry owners lobby Nanaimo community to support plan

NANAIMO – Chamber of commerce supports a proposed passenger-only ferry service for its 'obvious economic benefits.'

An agreement with the City of Nanaimo is critical to launching a new passenger ferry service, says Bob Lingwood, managing director of Island Ferries.

Lingwood recently called for Nanaimo business people to lobby the local government for a deal that would limit revenue sharing over the next five years.

Island Ferries wants to launch a $63-million passenger-only ferry service at the south industrial waterfront, which would be able to shuttle 375 people between downtown Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver in just over an hour.

The company – which has invested $10 million in the venture so far – says it’s confident its plan will work. It’s learned from the failings and triumphs of two previous foot ferry operators and knows there’s an appetite for greater travel options in central Vancouver Island. But in order for the new business to launch its two catamarans, it needs a deal with TransLink to use the SeaBus terminal near Canada Place, more investment and a partnership deal with the City of Nanaimo.

The local arrangement would have city officials crediting $125,000 back to Island Ferries each quarter for a total revenue loss of $2.5 million. After five years, the city would start to receive full revenue shares of $700,000 annually.

The company is also calling for a 20-year lease and site servicing to the tune of $125,000.

Nanaimo city officials have asked for taxpayers to weigh in on the proposal, which they say could take anywhere from two to six months to ink. Island Ferries is calling on its supporters to lobby politicians in their favour.

“There are many things that have to be done. I think the agreement with the city is the most critical,” said Lingwood. “It demonstrates to investors the strength of the market and the importance of this service to economic development.

“From Island Ferries Services Ltd.’s perspective the structure of the agreement provides long-term tenure and start-up support.”

Lining up a port on the Vancouver side will be simple and a straight commercial transaction. Investment is up to other people, not Island Ferries, Lingwood said of other tasks.

The foot ferry pitch – and plea for support from Nanaimo’s business community – is being backed by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, which recently accepted Island Ferries as a member. The organization is now encouraging business people to advocate for a city agreement and plans to work with the ferry venture on any challenges it might encounter.

According to Kim Smythe, CEO of the chamber of commerce, since HarbourLynx shuttered in 2006, there’s been a lingering hope among businesses for a revived foot-ferry service because of obvious economic benefits. A stable two-catamaran service can encourage day trips and attract new business.

Island Ferries is also promising 105 jobs, including 85 in Nanaimo. Half of the employees in the Harbour City are expected to be paid $50,000 to $100,000 annually.

Smythe said the chamber  has “a great deal of confidence” in the venture because of its business plan and the experience. The executive team includes Lingwood, former B.C. Ferries CEO, and Stewart Vinnels, who initiated Island Jetfoil – the first high-speed, passenger-only ferry service in North America.

“I think the whole executive team is outstanding … [It] gives the impression that they’ve really thought through this – who [they] need to make this work,” Smythe said, adding the chamber is committed to seeing the service work successfully in the community.

Residents are invited to give feedback to the City of Nanaimo about the ferry service and its proposed deal. Island Ferries will host an open house at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre between 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Monday (Nov. 25).

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