Video: Opposing sides square off in debate over Nanaimo’s proposed events centre

NANAIMO – More than 100 people turned out to a debate on the proposed event centre.

Sydney Robertson

Sydney Robertson

Nanaimo residents squared off in a debate on a proposed event centre despite a last-minute cancellation of the Vote Yes Committee.

More than 100 people turned out to hear yes and no sides of the event centre debate at an event hosted by the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.

Earlier that day the Vote Yes Committee, set to take up one side of the debate, cancelled over safety and fairness concerns and several volunteers stepped forward to fill the empty seats, including Nanaimo’s Paul Hearsey.

He said he wanted to have a good debate and wants to see the event centre go through.

“This is being built hopefully for my kids, as well as my parents. The generation before me, they built Beban Park. That was there when I was a child,” he said. “This is going to be a similar project as well as have some other benefits of hopefully revitalizing downtown.”

Allan Davidson, on the No side, sees the waterfront as a bad location for the event centre, a flawed funding model and believes the process has been bad, driving apart the community for no reason. It’s why he took up his seat.

The debate ended up better than he thought, he said, adding he wasn’t sure what was going to happen until he showed up that night.

The two sides put forward pitches on why the event centre was a good or bad idea and answered questions from the audience, like whether the city could build the event centre elsewhere and what assurances there are that the city can manage the project.

Brent Barootes, on the Yes side, said the reasoning behind Port Drive is because the city owns the land, but in his mind, the event centre is a destination whether it’s at Beban Park, the Howard Johnson site or Port Drive.

Gary Weikum, at the No table, talked about an alternative funding model where some of the centre is paid for by community and some by the private sector, possibly other communities or organizations.

Getting big-name acts like Elton John would be great, “but I don’t understand why we have to subsidize Elton John,” he said.

Darren Reid, of the Yes side, said council’s ability to manage the project is an important question.

“If you don’t know your jewels, know your jeweler so you need to have the right people marketing, the right people managing, because after the novelty of going to a new event centre wears off, you need a winner and if you don’t have a winner you better have a good marketer,” he said.

Barootes said there is a dysfunctional council and administration and failure of this going forward in his mind will be solely because of council and its administration, to which Davidson agreed.

Kim Smythe, CEO and president of the chamber of commerce, said the debate went well considering one team was formed five minutes before they started to speak.

The vote for the event centre takes place March 11.