Wrestling with Nanaimo Events Centre numbers; SD68 Land swap; Old City Quarter festival money woes

This week’s Monday night Council meeting was like watching the 60s wrestler Édouard Carpentier do a back flip off the ropes (see video below).

The hot topic of the night was the NEC (Nanaimo Events Centre). There was a presentation by City staff and then the vote to spend an additional $500,000 on the NEC.

Also of interest was the land swamp between the City of Nanaimo and SD68 and Nanaimo census, and the Old City Quarter festival troubles. Two new poets laureate were introduced which started the meeting off on a pleasant note.

Councillors Pratt and Brennan were absent from the meeting.

Nanaimo Stats

City staff gave a report based on the Stats Canada 2016 census. Nanaimo has seen an 8% growth in population which translates into an increase of over 6,000 people.  In comparison, Kingston, Subdury and Thunder Bay had zero growth.

Who is moving to Nanaimo? People from China and those squeezed out of the Lower Mainland?  Yet the local Real Estate flyer is getting skinnier every week.  Something is happening.

Residential growth led the way in many areas of the City especially in the Hammond Bay area.

332 new single homes were built in 2016 and 56% of the new homes had secondary suites.
There were 22 development variance permits approved out of 25 in total. In 2016 $123,450 was collected as cash in lieu of parks. Less park space was created.

Questions from Council:

Hong: how many street lamps are LED?…people complaining about bright street lamps…

Thorpe:…the land set aside for new parks is down significantly and the money collected is up ….

SD68 and City of Nanaimo Land swap

The City of Nanaimo is going to purchase the Rotary Bowl and Serauxmen Stadium for $4.1 million and build an artificial turf field for $2.4 million. Construction of the new turf field (area in blue) will start in June and finish in September 2017.

City of Nanaimo to purchase Rotary Bowl and Serauxmen Stadium for $4.1 million

There are long term plans for the redevelopment of the Rotary Bowl and Serauxmen Stadium by the City of Nanaimo. What are the new plans?

The public can attend an open house on Thursday March 9th at the Nanaimo Ice Centre 4:30pm to 8:30pm.

Questions from Council:

Thorpe: …we need another artificial turf …have you sat down with groups affected… when will this happen?…good partners?…

McKay:…$2.4 million to build this new turf field… How long will this last? …less than 10 years?

City Promo for Nanaimo Events Centre (NEC)

A presentation on the benefits of the NEC was made by:

CFO (Chief Financial Officer)
CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer)
COO (Chief Operations Officer)

It appears that the CSO has the main job of promoting the NEC. It is unclear what role the COO plays— maybe to sign off on necessary paper work or possibly a handy ‘fall’ person for the CAO. The CFO is the number wizard.

Most of the information was a recap of previous reports. Here is quick overview of what they had to say about the NEC:

  • 3 acre site at 1 Port Drive
  • 5200-5700 sports seats
  • $69 million to construct building
  • $11 million for site preparation
  • 20 year debt repayment of $5.4 million per year
  • annual operating costs $180,000

Money to support the NEC would come from:

  • hotel tax increase
  • strategic infrastructure reserve (gaming revenue and gas tax grant)
  • general revenue (taxes?)
  • community works funds
  • payments in lieu of taxes
  • Nanaimo Port Authority ($400,000)

The CFO and CAO seemed to hold back saying taxes wouldn’t go up. They qualified their answers by saying it depends if a WHL team signs on. The COO said no services will be affected by the increased debt.

However, the many complaints about pot holes and lack of snow plows could be a good barometer of things to come.

Two Public Delegations on the NEC report:

Speaker 1)
This project is being fast tracked. I sent 3 emails and 13 questions and didn’t receive a reply. Where is the executive summary for these reports? How can you say this [NEC project] will have no impact on taxes? What are the full risks? Where is the WHL? Why have all the reports not been released yet?

Speaker 2)
The Phase two reports are in draft and contain the same information as the December reports. The report is cut and pasted and full of errors. For example, the parking and traffic data is inconsistent. The numbers from the report don’t match those in the tables. The reports make broad statements. This is rushed. When will the business case report be ready? Still not ready? We haven’t seen the Ernst & Young report. You say here in the council chambers that taxes won’t go up but at the open houses you say the taxes COULD go up. What is it? This is a fail. The NEC will affect Nanaimo for years to come.

Council questions on report:

Fuller:…pretty pictures…two towers…one at port mall and a hotel at Gordon street…

Hong:…future taxes?…

Bestwick: …2026 debt retires?

McKay: …towers? [not built yet]…we are losing tax revenue on a 3 acre site…

Another $500,000 for Events Centre

There was a request from the City for another $500,000 for the NEC. The amount was changed and the motion passed.

In favour: Councillors Fuller, Hong, Yoachim, Bestwick, Kipp
Opposed: Councillor Thorpe & Mayor McKay
Absent: Councillors Pratt and Brennan

Why does the City needed more money before the March 11th referendum vote on the NEC?

There were 5 delegations; here is some of what they had to say:

Idle Garbage Trucks

Speaker 1)
I waited 30 minutes to get into the open house at Oliver Woods after parking a good distance away and finally gave up and went home.  You have forgotten the purpose of a local government. I curse the City every time I go through the Northfield and Island Highway intersection. Why is it not fixed? Most committees don’t meet. The City bought two automated garbage trucks for $1 million and they are sitting idle in a parking lot. This NEC has divided the City.

Speaker 2)
There has been no third party review of this project. Many academic studies show events centres don’t bring the promised results. U of T and UBC academics both say it is a poor choice for economic stimulation. Many better projects could be done.

Speaker 3)
Another $500,000 what for? Where is the WHL? How much is this going to cost in total? What is it going to look like? How is Ernst & Young an independent party when they do the report and they can also bid on the project? The same for the architect— they do the report and can also bid on the project? How is that not biased?

Speaker 4)
How can you approve this $500,000? Where is it to be spent and why?

Street Parking

Speaker 5)
The consultants’ report suggest that 100 VIP parking spots and on-street parking is enough to accommodate 1,500 guests. That means that 85% of the parking will come from street parking in the local neighbourhood. You need 1 parking stall for every 5 seats. So the NEC would need 1,460 parking spaces. Will there be a parkade on the waterfront?

Council questions:

Hong: $500,000…is a hard pill to swallow when I don’t know the breakdown of costs…What do you need now before the 11th, what do you need after? …

CFO: …we need $130,000 for the referendum…$75,000 for the project manager…need $32,000 for lawyers…$16,000 for Ernst & Young reports…We could wait to pay the architect…

Hong: I thought we approved $130,000 for the referendum?

CFO: Yes, you did.

Hong: $67,000 left over?

CFO: Ernst & Young worked with us on the third party review on Phases 1 and 3 and 4 …We stuck with Ernst & Young all the way because they know the project…

Bestwick: Do we need a new motion?

CFO: I need a motion requesting up to March 11th a total of $291,000 … $130,000 for the referendum and $160,000 for the project manager and $210,000 for the architect…

McKay:…so…$427,000 on first phase plus $130,000 equals $657,000 plus another $292,000… so a total of $949,000?

Thorpe: …I cannot support the motion…I supported Phases 1 and 2 because it got us to the referendum…I thought the funding was included in Phase 2 but I guess I was mistaken…We have spent over $400,000 and I have heard from a lot of people that we have spent too much and now we are looking to spend another $500,000?! …I am not interested in spending more money now until we have a vote on March 11th…

Fuller: … I support the motion…

Hong:….did we do this for VICC back then?

Geotechnical Studies

CAO: …No geotechnical study was done for the VICC…so the cost was $50 million with $20 million in cost overruns…40% higher cost than they thought it would be…They had major geo tech issues with the VICC…there was no geo tech study done for the Howard Johnston site…

Kipp: …we have some written things from SFN (Snuneymuxw First Nation) and some good negotiations…water treatment plant cost overruns…private companies don’t  build swimming pools and …conference centres because they don’t make money…it’s a little big for people…parking can go anywhere…I got 285 emails…don’t hate each other…

Bestwick: …People complain…can’t get island ferry done…can’t get hotel done…CAN get this done…

Downtown Events and Funds

There is a fund available to any groups which would like to hold events in downtown Nanaimo. There is approximately $120,000 available. Groups can apply for 30% of the total. Applications are available online at the City’s website until March 31st.

One delegation from the Old City Quarter came to council to ask for money to hold three festivals which were previously sponsored by the DNBIA. The Multi-Cultural Festival coming up soon has no money to operate as the DNBIA is now basically finished.

Council Questions:

Hong: …how much money was collected [by the DNBIA from Old City Quarter]?

Speaker: $40,000

Hong: has the money been allocated?

Speaker: Some items are missing…back in 1993 there was no way for people to find us…we put signage down at the wharf…[Recently] we received calls from the Nanaimo Port Authority of unpaid bills…planters in the area are empty and ugly…we need control back to get changes and action now…this DNBIA model is not working….

Fuller: …planters? …

Speaker:…something has to be done…festivals are being cancelled…we have the resources but we don’t have control of the money…

Thorpe: …your request is to change the bylaw which looks after funding?…Do you plan to apply for event funding?…

Kipp: …we spend less than $60,000 on community plans…

Speaker: …when we looked after things we only spent 12% of the budget on administration…We did a lot…co-op advertising…info boards…parking…

Kipp: (frowns) We are the only city in Canada to give money directly to a business association…

Hong: Is this a motion?

There was no motion. There was no vote called. Strange?

Question Period

Lots of questions from the gallery. The meeting almost went to midnight. Here are some of the questions:

  • Is the City aware that the WHL has a history of broken agreements?
  •  How many of you Council members are going to the last Clippers game?
  • What happened with the VICC? The City had a $30 million referendum question yet they borrowed $50 million for the VICC.  Will this happen for the NEC?
  • What about the SFN?
  • Do you need permission from the SFN? What if they say no? Will you say no?
  • Is it moral to put a huge Events Centre on top of an old village site?
  • Was it made up that the Disney on Ice could come to Nanaimo? They don’t play to an audience of less than 9,000.
  • Why are things like “Disney on Ice” just made up? Did you get their permission?
  • How are we going to collect taxes on the hotel on Gordon Street when they get 10 years tax free?

Conflict of Interest

It is unclear what advice councillors have been given, but if, for example Councillor Hong has business interests downtown, should he participating in these downtown funding topics? Also, if Councillor Yoachim is a SFN member should he be voting on the Events Centre if the City is in talks with the SFN? As well, if Councillor Bestwick is a professional hockey scout could he be in conflict of interest when voting on the NEC?

Some legs might be caught in the limelight.

An old school wrestling match featuring the acrobatic Édouard Carpentier and Jim Eskew which took place in the late 60s.