Nanaimo council takes next steps toward event centre referendum

Nanaimo council takes next steps toward event centre referendum

NANAIMO – Council will formally decide next month to trigger referendum, but laid the groundwork during a meeting this week.

Yes and no camps on a proposed Nanaimo event centre plan to crank up campaigns as civic politicians move toward a March referendum.

Nanaimo council unanimously set a $130,000 budget for a referendum on a proposed event centre, appointed election officers and recommended people head to the ballot box March 11, during a public meeting Monday.

The move lays the foundation for council to formally trigger a referendum.

City of Nanaimo chief sustainability officer Kim Fowler expects the decision point will be Feb. 6, with next steps being for council to give the initial readings of a loan authorization bylaw, set the question for the vote, and for the chief election officer to formally give the election date.

On the same day, the public will learn more about the centre, like how it would be paid for, where it will be constructed and what model council wants. Consultants recommend an event centre option for $86.6 million.

Groups for and against an event centre support a referendum and plan to ramp up campaigns. Don Bonner, spokesman for “NoVote2017” said people should know as much as they can about the cost, how much taxes will go up as a result, and how viable the building is. He doesn’t see spending $100 million – his estimate for costs – as a good thing. He said it will be a burden on taxpayers and put the city in debt for a long period of time. Going into debt will limit the amount of things that can be done in the future.

Tali Campbell, spokesman of “Yes for Nanaimo Event Centre,” said it’s has been talked about for a long time and Nanaimo is ready for this kind of investment to move the city forward. A WHL team will bring 40-odd home games a year, which would bring 40 away teams to stay in hotels and eat at restaurants – not to mention potential playoffs. Campbell sees economic and tourism benefits and revitalization of downtown.

“At the end of the day, whether it’s privately funded or publicly funded, we support the matter regardless,” said Campbell.

On Monday, Coun. Ian Thorpe said he’s pleased council is proceeding to referendum.

“We’ve certainly heard from a lot of citizens that they wish to have a voice, a direct voice in whether or not we proceed with this,” he said.

Coun. Bill Bestwick made it clear he has more than a multiplex on his mind, including an IMAX, science world, YMCA, a mineral pool to replace an “outdated” Beban pool and accessibility for the Beban gym.

“I will be back on March 12 if this doesn’t proceed and I can assure you that those five things will be on my agenda,” he said.

Coun. Jerry Hong said he’d loved to do the things Bestwick mentioned, and would like to see a gondola, tunnel to Newcastle and a bridge to Vancouver and maybe Gabriola. The event centre was chosen by all of council to investigate, they’ve done their investigation and will bring it to referendum so people can decide, he said.

“It’s up to you. You can tell us if you don’t want it, that’s fine, next year we’ll pick something different,” he said.