Editorial: Multiplex debate must be robust

The city has put a multiplex project at front of mind in Nanaimo. We need to think about it and talk about it.

The City of Nanaimo is imagining ‘game on’ at a new multiplex, and will find out if people want to play and if taxpayers want to pay.

The first phase of an events centre study was presented this week. It was a quick turnaround after councillors agreed upon their strategic priorities at the beginning of the summer. Evidently a multiplex was at the top of the list.

The artist’s renderings are attractive and the project has obvious appeal. It offers huge entertainment value, new opportunities and aligns with many of what we think are Nanaimo’s goals surrounding tourism and hospitality and downtown revitalization.

But seeing Phase 1 of the study without the other phases and having so many questions unanswered has limited value. Maybe we like the idea of a ‘luxury’ multiplex with the highest tier of amenities. Maybe we prefer one suggested site to another. But what are we really comparing here? We haven’t been presented with information or proposals or options about who’s footing the bill. The comparison that matters is spending $62-83 million on a multiplex, shouldering some of the cost, or not spending another dime.

We could argue that it’s a backward process to be talking about the bells and whistles before the dollars that drive everything. We trust there will be those sorts of conversations and we hope it’s fact-based discussion that doesn’t mask the challenges and failings at other event centres in mid-size communities. We understand, though, that politicians, having expressed their priorities, want to align other people’s visions with their own. This is a part of a sales pitch. If we have to ask the price, we can’t afford it.

The city has successfully put a multiplex project at front of mind in Nanaimo. We need to think about it and talk about it, because so much of our city’s direction depends on getting it built, and how, or not getting it built, and why not. That’s the comparison; that’s the debate that has already started. It’s game on.