A proposed Ocean Discovery Centre in Nanaimo. CHECKWITCH POIRON ARCHITECTS image

Column: The struggle to make Nanaimo a ‘destination’

Why visit Nanaimo? Ask a handful of people and you’ll probably get a handful of answers

Why should anyone visit Nanaimo? Ask a handful of people and you’ll probably get a handful of answers. It might go something like, “Walk by the harbour, check out the downtown, eat a Nanaimo bar and go to a show.”

Nanaimo city councillors are hoping that soon one such draw will be the Ocean Discovery Centre. At a finance and audit committee meeting last week, councillors in attendance narrowly voted to recommend giving the Nanaimo Deep Discovery Association $65,000 to cover costs including a fundraising consultant, feasibility study and promotional documentary. City councillors will make a decision on the committee’s recommendation at a later date.

The deep discovery association noted in a letter to council that $127,575 would be needed, despite asserting on their website that they will not be expecting Nanaimo tax dollars to fund their $50-million project. The city has already agreed to give the group a roughly 8,000-square-metre spot on Port Drive real estate.

Hopefully the Ocean Discovery Centre will be a smashing success, attracting tourists and locals alike and bringing new life to an underutilized corner of the waterfront. We don’t really have a science centre-style establishment in town and the discovery centre could offer something new. However, this attraction is still three or four years from reality, according its website, although this fall’s municipal election could result in a council that is friendlier or leerier toward the project. The association itself evidently feels a need to study its own feasibility.

But how involved should the city be in financing tourist attractions? Last year residents overwhelmingly opposed the prospect of borrowing $80 million for an arena that could have brought larger performing art, sporting events and, by extension, guests to the city.

Anecdotally I can say that Nanaimo doesn’t seem to be lacking visitors; I’ve seen numerous tourists walking along the boardwalk and down Commercial Street. Furthermore, the coming Nanaimo Bathtub Weekend caps off three straight weeks in which Maffeo Sutton Park has been full of people taking in nautical festivities. On the horizon lie the Nanaimo Fringe Festival, Gabriola Island’s Cultivate Festival, Summertime Blues and more. In my role as arts editor I can attest to the regular and frequent concerts, art openings and theatre recitals that happen in the city on a weekly basis. There is certainly no dearth of activities to keep a tourist satisfied.

Not long ago the News Bulletin published its annual 101 Things to See and Do in Nanaimo and Best of the City supplements. In both cases there was no difficulty finding events and activities to highlighte. In a lot of cases the city sponsors these events.

But when it comes to making Nanaimo a ‘destination,’ perhaps city hall should place an emphasis on working to make Nanaimo cleaner, more orderly and generally more appealing to those looking to invest their time and money in our seaside city. Groups like the Nanaimo Arts Council and Humanity in Art are keen on downtown beautification and the city has its public art program. A positive first impression goes a long way and I’d say that would be a great place to start.

Maybe then the city won’t have to borrow millions of dollars or offer incentives like free land and money to bring attractions to Nanaimo.


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