Editorial: Keep parkland public property

Hilton developers think Georgia Park would make a perfect front yard for their hotel, and Nanaimo city council agrees.

Hilton developers think Georgia Park would make a perfect front yard for their hotel, and city council agrees.

This week, councillors approved in principle the lease of a portion of Georgia Park to Insight Holdings. Hilton wants to lease more than half the park to create a luxurious terrace for its ritzy tower.

It’s concerning that council is so quick to turn over parkland to the private sector. The parcel of land has some historical significance as one of the first public access points to the waterfront, and even now, according to the city’s own count, Georgia Park sees more passersby than any other park in the city. That’s an indication that it’s a location – connecting the boardwalk with Maffeo Sutton Park – that matters very much to residents and visitors.

It’s true that Georgia Park isn’t so much a destination as a thoroughfare, and adjacent to a hotel, it could become even more of a gateway to the waterfront. Guests would be able to meander off hotel grounds, into the park, and from there, wherever they please.

Parks and rec was considering upgrades to Georgia Park long before the Hilton hotel was ever imagined. Now developers have presented their own vision, a $1.5-million extreme makeover developed in consultation with city staff. Insight wants a patio, water features, staircase and a loading bay, and some aspects of the design are admittedly attractive. Public steps that encourage loitering and assembly can be a community asset; turning parkland into a loading bay, on the other hand, is not palatable.

Hilton intends to make a $1.2-million community contribution to the park, and we hope that happens without the tradeoff of taking an excavator to the hill.

The lease will eventually go to an alternate-approval process, so citizens will help shape the future of our grassy slope. Right now, the Nanaimo Hilton still exists only in an artist’s rendering. We think the artist needs to learn to colour within the lines, and keep its hotel on hotel property.