Nanaimo group buoyed by interest in proposed ocean centre

NANAIMO – Nanaimo city council directed staff to meet with association to discuss its vision.

A NANAIMO organization is feeling buoyed by political interest in a new ocean centre.

The Nanaimo Deep Discovery Association wants to build a world-class ocean centre with thrill attractions, interactive displays and a ‘village’ with coffee shops and restaurants.

It has an architectural drawing of the idea, roughly estimated to cost $35-40 million. There’s no location for the project yet and the organization is looking for approval in-principle from Nanaimo city council to move the project ahead.

Council unanimously agreed last week for staff members to meet with the association and report back on their findings.

Coun. Wendy Pratt, who was shown the concept, called it beautiful and intriguing, adding that many times at the council table it’s been said something unique and different is needed “and this certainly fits with who we are.”

Coun. Bill Bestwick said it appears to be something of a nautical, interactive Science World concept, and one would be silly not to say council is interested. He couldn’t say what level of interest and how far to go, however, without more time to sit down with the group and learn more about the project.

“We didn’t get a no, this is a bad idea, don’t talk to us about it, which would have quite frankly halted the whole thing in its tracks completely,” said Lorne Hildebrand, president of Nanaimo Deep Discovery Association. “We clearly got a much better sense that they probably would like to get going so we’re pretty buoyed by that, actually.”

Those behind the discovery centre have formed an association and hired an architect and plan to do a crowd-funding campaign. There are ideas to build in thrill attractions to the centre, such as a soaring over California ride, but through the Juan de Fuca trench, according to Hildebrand. Another is for people to go into a room with a professional remotely operated vehicle controller, which would drive it through the Saskatchewan and Cape Breton wrecks, so people can see what the artificial reef does, how it’s growing and what’s happening in real time.

“For me this is more like a provincial museum with an underwater part to it and sort of exciting thrill rides,” Hildebrand said. “If this isn’t attracting people from Seattle that want to come down to this thing then we aren’t doing our job properly.”

Hildebrand does see the centre as realistic. He was involved in the sinking of Nanaimo’s three artificial reefs. People said it would never get done but it did, because the timing was right, he said.

He believes the timing is also right for this centre because of the cruise ships, fast ferry and economic development being high on people’s lists.

“I do think it’s possible,” he said.