Developing attractions takes imagination. Some might call ideas as a bridge to Newcastle Island and a gondola up Mount Benson harebrained, while others might call them visionary.
"How about a bridge to Vancouver?" said Nanaimo resident Andrea Bonkowski last week.
"I'd like to see a gondola up Mount Benson, or a fixed link to Newcastle," said another woman at Maffeo-Sutton Park who wouldn't give her name.
"It could be a bridge or it could be an underground tunnel, themed as a coal mine."
It's not a new idea. Coal mines that once stretched the entire distance beneath the harbour, connecting the downtown area to Nanaimo's first coal mine are now sealed off, but might be re-opened as a sort of living museum.
Miranda Hill likes the idea of a tramline up Mount Benson.
"Some people don't have time for the hike," Hill said. "I hate hiking, so if there was something to get me there, I would go."
For Nina Chai, who recently moved to Nanaimo from China, Nanaimo needs shopping on a grand scale.
"You need a big mall, with exhibitions, like in Shanghai - every weekend you could have watch, or jewelry shows."
Ideas are welcome at the Nanaimo Economic Development Corp.
"Our lens is, 'How do we develop new experiences and new offerings and how do we drive overnight visitation to Nanaimo," said Sasha Angus, NEDC CEO.
Of course, iconic attractions can come with big costs, and take time to build. Any major project would likely require a champion.
"Obviously you want a pretty strong business plan about how much it would cost," Angus said. "What are the likely (number of) visitors it would draw, and what is the time line?" The Daily News looked at some of the ideas for new Nanaimo attractions, and provides some rough estimates of their potential cost.
Mount Benson gondola
Most healthy, fit people can climb up Mount Benson to enjoy the view clear across Georgia to Vancouver, but for many, it's too challenging.
A gondola would make that view accessible for seniors, children and disabled people, and it would create a draw that would attract visitors to Nanaimo for years to come.
Doubters need only look as far as Whistler-Blackcomb, Banff or Jasper to see how successful such eco-tours can be.
There will be challenges to build a gondola, not least of which is cost.
On top of that, there are access problems The route to the top would be the first obstacle a proponent would have to clear, said Gail Adrienne, executive director of Nanaimo Area Land Trust, which led a fundraising campaign to acquire some of the land at the summit, which is now Regional District of Nanaimo parkland.
The cable car route would either pass over RDN parkland or private property, and agreements would be needed with landowners to erect any towers or other infrastructure, and that would likely mean compensation.
Any proponent would need deep pockets. Engineers were reluctant to be quoted on estimates given over the phone, but estimated that a gondola up Mount Benson would cost at least $20 million.
"It depends on the type of lift," said Brent Curtain, Mount Washington Resort spokesman. He said a high-speed tramway would move people in sufficient numbers up and down the mountain, and "you're looking at multiples of $10 million," he said.
Length of lift and vertical rise are other cost factors. The peak-to-peak gondola connecting Blackcomb with Whistler mountain cost $47 million. A closer comparison to Mount Benson is the Sea to Sky Gondola. The $22-million project will lift visitors 853 vertical metres in eight-person gondola cars, just south of the Stawamus Chief. When it opens in May, it is expected to lure more than 200,000 visitors in its first year, enhancing Squamish as an outdoor recreation destination.
Every year, thousands of visitors reach the summit of Grouse Mountain by one of two gondolas. The original, 45-passenger Grouse Mountain Skyride (blue), was launched in December, 1966 by then premier W.A.C. Bennett. The 100-passenger Red Skyride was added 10 years later.
The resort was unable to provide costs of the two gondolas, but by 1990, Grouse Mountain had become a year-round destination with its famed Grouse Grind and mountaintop dining. Since then, $25 million has been spent on new ski lifts and other improvements.
Mount Benson's summit is "about 1,000 metres, or 3,600 feet," said Adrienne, by email.
Gondola location can make a difference. The north (front) face and south (back) faces are the steepest, while the east and west faces are more gradual.
Newcastle Island is the jewel that has drawn people to the Nanaimo Harbour for decades.
Once the home of roaring weekend dance parties for rich Vancouverites, it remains a popular place today, yet its distance from Nanaimo, 200 metres across Newcastle Channel, makes it tantalizingly out of reach to anyone without boat access.
A bridge would change that. Nanaimo developer Jim Routledge floated the idea during the last civic election, which rekindled interest in the idea. Routledge was on a committee that did a study that produced a report that identifies a Newcastle bridge as an economic driver for the area.
Support may not be universal, but it exists. Something the report did not consider was cost.
An engineer with a Vancouver bridge building firm said soil stability, access and other issues can all affect a bridge's cost. Speaking on the condition his name and company not be used, he said a steel or concrete pedestrian bridge would normally run about $2,000 per square metre range.
At that rate, using a span length of 200 metres, roughly three metres wide, makes a total of 600 square metres. The cost: About $1.2 million.
This year the province ended its fire-control contract with Coulson Group, owner of the two massive Martin Mars water bombers Hawaii and Philippine used to contain blazes around the Pacific Northwest, including the Kelowna forest fires of 2003.
It puts the future of flying tankers in question. One option is to create a museum display.
Wayne Coulson is coy about what will become of the giant airplanes, but their sale hasn't been ruled out.
"We are looking at all options and will communicate with the public in the near future," Coulson said by email.
The price Coulson paid for the planes when the company acquired them from Timberwest in 2007, was never made public. When asked what the planes would cost, he said, "multimillions."
Asked to refine to a range, such as $5 million to $10 million, Coulson said: "Your guess is fine."
But he said an obstacle could be the close attachment Port Alberni has to the flying boats.
Giant Nanaimo Bars
It took Ron Hale four months to build the world's tallest garden gnome as a roadside attraction for his Nanoose Bay gas station.
"If I knew what I was doing, I could have done it in a couple of months." It took a second artist to help with some of the details, such as the nose and a range of materials, including a heavy felt exterior, to which he applied several coats of paint, to create the coloured exterior.
A giant, 12-metre-tall Nanaimo bar would be a snap by comparison.He estimates it would take "a couple of weeks," to build. For a senior carpenter, paid $31.66 an hour, in 2011, that's just under $2,400 for two weeks labour to build one Nanaimo bar.
Built from wood, and painted, materials could cost anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000, said Jessie Magee-Chalmers, Vancouver Island University carpentry instructor.
"A lot of different factors would go into the cost," Magee-Chalmers said.
After Nanaimo embarked on an ambitious program to sink several ships to create artificial reefs in the harbour, local divers believed the time was right to develop an extensive underwater walkway system to allow non-divers to see the extensive sea life that lies just out of sight, below the surface.
"The idea was to go out on a pier to an area with a platform, with steps going down to a huge room, glassed in," said Lorne Hildebrand, who championed the idea, more than a decade ago.
"People could come along and see healthy plants and animal life down there - the kind of thing I can see as a diver."
Sketches were developed showing the pier extending out roughly 200 metres into Departure Bay, and a push was mounted to begin fundraising for the project. But some residents didn't like the idea, and it was scrapped.
Still, Hildebrand believes it had merit and would appreciate seeing it revived. To control costs, members of the diving community were willing to volunteer considerable hours to make it a success. Today, with inflation, "I think it could fly for $5 million quite easily," Hildebrand said."It would be the diving experience, without being a scuba diver."
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