A representative from the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation told a crowd of more than 200 people that Nanaimo’s proposed events centre resembles too much a failed project in Abbotsford.
Jordan Bateman, B.C. director for the federation, was the guest speaker at a forum at Beban Park Thursday hosted by No Vote 2017, an organization formed to oppose the referendum to borrow $80 million for construction of an events centre in Nanaimo.
Bateman, a two-term councillor for the City of Langley, compared two projects – the Langley events centre and the Abbostford multiplex – to show the audience the success and failure of each of the two different models.
Langley’s centre began as a community centre, until a $15-million grant from the provincial government allowed council to expand the project to include an ice sheet for hockey as well as other amenities for community groups. The Langley school district and Trinity Western University kicked in $3.5 million each in addition to a private partner, which was later bought out by the city, toward the $66-million cost of the venue.
Bateman, who voted in favour of the Langley project when on council, said the centre hosts two professional lacrosse teams, a WHL team as well as banquets and gymnastics meets in addition to community use. It is the centre of a community park which includes greenspace and playing fields.
“It’s not perfect, but we got a lot of bang for our buck,” said Bateman.
He compared the project to Abbotsford, which asked taxpayers for more than $80 million to build a 7,500-seat arena with an art gallery and library and required an 11-per cent tax hike over 20 years. The city also subsidized an American Hockey League team for five years at $15 million, which included a $5-million buyout of the remaining five-year contract. No hockey team currently calls the Abbotsford Centre home and just seven events are scheduled from March to June.
“It would save them more money to close the doors and never open them again,” Bateman said.
He disputed some of the claims made in the city’s plan for the proposed Nanaimo events centre, disagreeing that the project will be an employment driver or that it won’t need a subsidy after two years. He said the operating deficit is usually about $2 million for event centres.
“These things all lose money,” he said. “We were honest with the people of Langley; we’re going to be paying a million, million and a half annually.”
He also highlighted Nanaimo’s poor track record on public projects, including the city-built Vancouver Island Conference Centre and the cruise ship terminal, which was built by Nanaimo Port Authority.
Financing $5.4 million in debt servicing on the $80-million load annually means the City of Nanaimo won’t be able to spend that money on other infrastructure, such as sewer, roads or policing.
“Whether [the events centre is] necessary for you, that’s a decision only you can make,” Bateman said.
Advance voting on the referendum takes place Wednesday (March 8), 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., at the conference centre with general voting on March 11. For locations, please visit www.nanaimo.ca.