Mar. 11, 2017

Referendum defeated by four-to-one margin 80% to 20%


By Merv Unger

03/11 - Now that the majority of Nanaimo citizens who voted have rejected the idea of borrowing $80 million for a proposed events centre we can reflect on what spurred this verdict.

First off, my opinion is not worth one penny more than anyone else’s so this is only my two cents worth. There are many reasons the outcome was such as it was.

One was the hurried rush to ram this project through. It wasn’t even on the radar when the last five-year plan was done by city council, then over night it was numero uno. A lot of that can be laid at the fact that a Western Hockey League franchise became available to our city. But the way it was sold was take it or leave it, now or never. People don’t like that type of approach.

I would welcome a WHL franchise in Nanaimo, it would be good for our city if a team was successful here. It’s great for our image to be known in other cities across Western Canada – Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and smaller venues. Yes, the image means a lot.

The location, and its rush, is another thing that turned off a lot of people. A south end strategy was developed only recently and then shunted aside without discussion. The misconception by many that the proposed arena would be on the waterfront, which the site is not, was another heavy negative.

What raised eyebrows for a lot of people was the delay in getting the blessing of the Snuneymuxw who claim rights to the property.

Perhaps one of the main objections from the public was the lack of clarity on the dollars and cents, most notably about the cost of the project along with operating costs, financial burden on taxpayers and further amenities. Give city staff credit for trying their best to provide a clear picture, but projection is not an exact science. I’m sure nobody could have done any better in explaining the ins and outs. There was that rush again.

Then there was the lure bait that this could be a private-public partnership, with a possible site identified. Without knowing all the ins and outs, a lot of people liked that option; the idea of someone else’s dollars being involved.

As much as some people want to get rid of the automobile, parking is an absolute must for any venue that wants to attract people for specified periods of time. Not having an answer, but suggesting hockey and event fans would be on their own, simply was not what anyone wanted to hear. Convenience is everything and expecting people to walk a kilometer or more in our rainy climate is just too much to expect.

The council members voting in favour of this project at the council table did not do much of a sales job. Coun. Bill Bestwick carried the brunt of the load, and Jerry Hong tossed in a couple of questionable jabs at voters, but other than that we didn’t hear much from the rest of the council backers.

All in all, it was the loose ends that saw this concept unravel. Now that the verdict is in, is an arena a dead topic?

It need not be if someone wants to take a deep breath, sit back and do all the necessary homework over a longer period of time and come back with all the loose ends tightly tied up. That will take someone with courage.

This will likely not be the last opportunity go get a team in the Western Hockey League. During the debate I heard of more than one team likely having to relocate in the next little while. Would they pick Nanaimo? That’s the 80-million-dollar question.