In this city, a multiplex is the idea that’s never slept.
For more than a decade, the city talked with private proponents about a potential multiplex, including with three different owners of the Nanaimo Clippers.
It started with Clippers owner Dieter Peter in 2002, who presented the concept of a multi-purpose arena but there was never a proposal other than that taxpayers would fund the full costs of the building, including debt and operating costs, according to a city report. When Peter sold, new owner Gary Gelinas also spoke with the city about a multiplex, but it became clear he too wished for taxpayers to fund the facility.
In 2006, the Clippers, now owned by William Gallacher and Ken Wagner, approached the city, but by 2007 announced they were abandoning their plan to the surprise of council, which had been waiting for a business plan, according to a letter to the editor from then-mayor Gary Korpan and late councillor Larry McNabb.
The city claimed the proposal had gone from requiring no taxpayer funding, land and a “modest” revenue stream through use of the facility, to requesting taxpayers provide one-third of the capital cost, as well as ice rental costs and land for parking. The facility was estimated to cost $45 million.
Wagner, part owner and govenor of the current Nanaimo Clippers, told the News Bulletin that 10 years ago, the new owners of the club knew Nanaimo was ready for a Western Hockey League team and spent $500,000 on their own due diligence. They did everything the city asked it to, he said, adding they had a bonded price from a local contractor, an outside consulting firm and prints drawn up on the facility. At the time, it was a hockey arena – not the same facility as proposed now, he said. Wagner said his group asked for improvements and to work with the city on land, but not one-third of the cost. Neither does he feel they were treated fairly, but bygones are bygones, he said.
Council hosted a delegation in 2013, which included the Nanaimo Clippers, RG Properties, which leases Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, and the Western Hockey League, which expressed interest in a franchise in Nanaimo. City staff presented a report then on costs, operations and how other multiplexes function.
“We’ll have to call a meeting, sit down with all of council and ask ‘what are your thoughts?’” said then-mayor John Ruttan. “I haven’t seen an overwhelming indication of council or community support.”
Howard Johnson Hotels pitched a multimillion-dollar hotel and 5,000-seat sports arena multiplex in 2015, sparked by interested shown by the WHL in possibly bringing a second team to the Island. Last year, the city named an event centre as a top strategic priority and a representative for the hotel wanted clarification on what that meant, including if the city would build the centre itself.
The city is moving ahead with its proposal alone.
It’s not known what happened to the Howard Johnson pitch.