Artist's rendition of a proposed events centre at 1 Port Dr. in Nanaimo.

Artist's rendition of a proposed events centre at 1 Port Dr. in Nanaimo.

Nanaimo council approves Phase 3 of proposed events centre plan

NANAIMO – City will hold off on architectural work until after March 11 referendum.

The City of Nanaimo will hold off on architectural work on a proposed event centre until after a March referendum to reduce its budget.

Nanaimo city council voted 5-2 to a $291,000 budget for Phase 3 of the event centre plan, which includes the referendum and work by legal and financial advisors, and project manager.

A city report shows the municipality secured all but a facility operator for the event centre, including BBB Architects as the building architect, but chief financial officer Victor Mema said at a council meeting Monday the architect and the work can wait until after March 11, when residents go to the polls. The budget request from city staff was previously $500,000 from general capital reserves and would have put costs tied to the event centre at more than $1 million before the vote.

During the meeting, city staff members showed revised information slides on the event centre, which estimates 114 event days with the majority coming from conferences, trade and touring shows, and Western Hockey League games, as well as 251 community days, for activities like public skating and recreational sports.

A business case and additional information from consulting firm Ernst and Young, which did a third-party review of a feasibility study, which was released Wednesday night.

City manager Tracy Samra, who talked about the need for a legal advisor, also told council the city has made clear in discussions with the WHL that the city is looking for a 20-year, long-term commitment of a franchise in the community, which will be part of the negotiation for the facility lease and licence agreement.

Negotiations with a prospective operator of the event centre are also needed. Samra said the business case identified that having one operator manage the convention centre and event centre means efficiencies in staffing for the two organizations and collaboration in marketing strategies.

“We are currently assessing applications for the operations of [the Vancouver Island Conference Centre] and we are also considering and looking for whether or not those operators can also operate the event centre,” she said.

City council agreed to another $291,000 with Mayor Bill McKay and Coun. Ian Thorpe opposed.

Coun. Bill Bestwick said it’s a significant project and the numbers reflect that, adding something like this cannot be entertained without making an investment and this “literally is an investment in our community to ensure we do the right thing and that we do ensure that we are providing the information as it comes to us.”

The City of Nanaimo had previously expected to spend $495,000 for the first and second phase of a feasibility study and Mema said Monday at this point the city has spent about $427,000. Mema expects a more comprehensive total for costs spent on the event centre will be available in the city’s fourth quarter financial statement at the end of March.

A recent city report on direct award purchases shows the city spent more than $470,000, including GST, on contracts related to the event centre between October and the end of December last year. Among the firms paid are BBB Architects for $288,750, Ernst and Young at $26,250 and Weirfoulds for $29,505.

The city also spent $38,000 on a phone survey for the event centre, mail outs and a public engagement feedback report, and has budgeted another $40,000 for public engagement so far this year of which about half is related to the referendum and was included in the city’s recent funding request, according to Mema.