Snuneymuxw First Nation and Waterfront Holdings Ltd. announced an agreement to collaborate on current and future waterfront development on Stewart Avenue.
The agreement, signed at The Grand Hotel Wednesday, is the first in Nanaimo focused on waterfront development and highlights how Snuneymuxw and local businesses can collaborate on projects that benefit all parties and the community.
The Sirri family, which owns and operates The Grand in north Nanaimo, and Snuneymuxw First Nation have built a relationship over the past 15 years and are working together to gentrify and rejuvenate the property at 1000 Stewart Ave. – the site of the former Moby Dick Hotel – and to enhance the future use of Newcastle Island that respects and reflects the Snuneymuxw and its interests.
The Moby Dick Hotel was purchased by Waterfront Holdings, a business development division of the Sirri family, and is in its early stages of metamorphosis into The Waterfront Suites and Marina, a marine resort under development by Odai Sirri, company director of business development.
The Sirris have already invested four years and millions of dollars into getting permits and approvals from the city, renovating the building and engineering studies for future multi-phased development at the site, which includes a marina, public walkway, restaurant and lounge and a new 150-room hotel and condominium development.
“So you make it a resort type experience and with the expansion we’d be able to offer the wellness centre and the spas and the gyms, so it becomes a one stop destination in Nanaimo – not in Parksville, not in Tofino,” said Sirri. “You’re here on the water in a resort setting in Nanaimo.”
The property is also the former site of a Snuneymuxw village and historically important to its people.
“That’s one of the dimensions of why this is meaningful to us,” said Douglas White III, Snuneymuxw First Nation chief.
The property also lies at the narrowest point of Newcastle Channel, which has implications for the Snuneymuxw’s future plans to develop Newcastle Island into a prominent tourist destination.
“We want to develop some new facilities over there of a modest kind that won’t have a big impact on the nature and feel of the island, but will provide us the necessary spaces to deliver new kinds of programming to the public to help them learn about Coast Salish culture,” White said. “We’ll also be looking to enhance and develop further dimensions of potential educational opportunities on Newcastle Island related to its coal mining history, the CPR history, the canneries history – the non-Snuneymuxw activities history on the island.”
But to do any of that, access has to be improved to more easily bring Nanaimo residents and visiting tourists onto the island.
Options could include better ferry service, a bridge or even more unorthodox ideas, such as gondolas or even tunnels under the channel to give tourists a coal miner’s perspective while travelling to the island.
“There’s a number of different things that could be considered,” White said. “We’re not wedded to any particular option.”
He noted that if a bridge were to be built then the Sirri family property is a natural location.
“But that’s for future discussions, both between us and the Sirri family, but also between Snuneymuxw and the public at large and all the stakeholders,” said White.
Sirri shares White’s vision of creating an opportunity, using Newcastle Island and the waterfront, to help make Nanaimo a major tourist destination.
“We’re part of the operations. They’re part of the operations, but this is just one thing,” he said. “We’re looking down the line now,.”