Nanaimo mayor says to view sports multiplex plan critically

NANAIMO – City councillors say the plan could spur economic development and showcase Nanaimo.

While looking at pretty pictures of a sports and entertainment centre, envisioning going to a game or event at a new sports and entertainment centre, Mayor Bill McKay says stop for a moment and take a critical view.

As reported by Brisbin Brook Beynon Architects, if you are going to do something like this, make sure it’s right the first time, said McKay.

“My position is if you are going to take a look at this, look at it in a critical, non-emotional point of view,” he said. “Because you are going to pay the bill and it’s a big bill.”

The first phase of a city-commissioned study by BBB Architects into a sports and entertainment centre was presented at a city council meeting last week, showing development costs of $62 million to $83 million, depending on the centre’s size and features and that a Western Hockey League team would be critical to the building.

A concept was also presented of a long-house inspired facility that would either go on city land at 1 Port Dr. or the Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel property, whose owners have already announced plans for a sports arena multiplex.

McKay said he wants to hear from the private proponents, adding that he was in favour of a privately funded facility.

“This current proposal which could be significantly funded by the city I’m not so excited about that,” he said.

Coun. Bill Bestwick said he’s heard the Howard Johnson wants to have its site considered, not that it wants to build a centre.

He’s interested in seeing a sports and entertainment centre in the downtown core, pointed out the Frank Crane Arena is almost half a century old, built when Nanaimo’s population was lower. He also said it has 2,240 seats down from 2,755 when it opened and that events, attractions, boat and skating shows aren’t going there.

“We do have an obligation to provide recreation to the City of Nanaimo and its residents, but we do, the private sector doesn’t, we do,” said Bestwick, who also said Nanaimo is strategically positioned at the centre of Vancouver Island with a 400,000-person capture area within a 60-minute drive, and growing every year.

Coun. Jerry Hong wants to hear from the public on the proposed multiplex. He said it’s what’s needed to spur development or anchor downtown. He knows people think the building is a “huge expenditure,” but points to projects like the city’s $71-million water treatment plant and regional district’s waste treatment plant and the millions spent on infrastructure. He also wants to get reports on city expenditures for the Port Theatre, Beban Park and Bowen Park.

“The biggest complaint people say, well I don’t want to pay for it, I don’t want many taxes to pay for it year after year, but we already do that,” Hong said. “Every facility that’s city owned, the taxpayers are paying for it, so what’s the difference between a multiplex and a swimming pool? It’s just an ice rink. What’s the difference between this and Beban Park? What’s the difference between this and a water treatment plant?”

Hong said there’s a need for a mega project that’s going to showcase Nanaimo.