Nanaimo to hold referendum on Events Centre proposal

City council has announced a date for the referendum, and both the "yes" and "no" are already out making their cases.

Referendum will ask if citizens approve of tens of millions of dollars in construction borrowing

A conceptual drawing of the proposed Nanaimo Events Centre. Nanaimo citizens will vote on whether or not to approve tens of millions of dollars of borrowing to build the facility in a March 11 referendum. (nanaimo.ca)

Nanaimo residents will determine the fate of a proposed Events Centre on March 11, after the city council voted Monday night to hold a referendum.

Supporters say the Events Centre could bring big music acts, boat shows, and a WHL team — while detractors say it could also become an albatross for the city and taxpayers.

Tali Campbell, spokesperson for Yes for Nanaimo Event Centre, is betting on the former.

"Our businesses in the downtown would benefit from the influx of visitors from out of town ... money staying here in Nanaimo," he told All Points West guest host Richard Zussman.

"Hotel development is sparking up, there's lots of interest in that, and those are all things that are going to provide great jobs."

Campbell says all told, the project could cost taxpayers $64 million to $100 million to build, which he says makes this the biggest capital project taken on by Nanaimo taxpayers.

But he says successes in other cities show these buildings can revitalize a downtown core and bring a new "excitement" that goes beyond entertainment.

No side warns of 'serious consequences'

But Wanda Thompson with NoVote2017 says asking taxpayers to foot the bill for the building will only increase property taxes and municipal debt which will result in decreased services for citizens.

She says construction of the building could balloon to hundreds of millions of dollars and borrowing that amount of money will result "in serious consequences" for a city the size of Nanaimo.

"And these consequences will be carried by Nanaimo residents, forcing us to make tough choices about critical infrastructure and cut services to pay for the arena and service that debt," she said.

Thompson says Nanaimo already has public buildings that could fill the role of the events centre but those aren't being used to their fullest.

"We're on Vancouver Island, we have a small population, our income is half of that of Victoria and it's unlikely we will ever see those kind of major entertainers come to Nanaimo no matter what size of venue we have because they're more likely to pick Victoria or Vancouver if they're going to come to this part of the coast," she said.

With files from CBC Radio One's All Points West


To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: Nanaimo citizens to vote on new events centre March 11