It's good to hear that the city is now publicly exploring what to do with the downtown waterfront Wellcox property it owns. Depending on how much the city opens the door for community input, now is the opportunity to speak up in regards to having an entertainment and sports multiplex become the focal point of redevelopment of a vital piece of prime real estate.
Without question, the most important development that the city needs is a multiplex. Every city of comparable size in the province has had one for years, and such centres are a focal point of entertainment opportunities and activities to be enjoyed by the entire community and region, regardless of the weather.
This does not mean that Nanaimo needs to have one in order to "keep up with the Joneses," or other communities. It does mean that our city needs this in order to keep our place as a regional centre.
The lack of an iconic tourist attraction is a glaring weakness in our offering to visitors, who, other than walking through beautiful trails or on the waterfront, bungee jumping or Wild Play, have little options in regards to short-term, memorymaking opportunities to stay and play in Nanaimo.
A multiplex provides that instantly. Acts that play in the Save-On Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria like Rod Stewart or Elton John or Michael Buble, having already made the trek to Vancouver Island, would undoubtedly be interested in a short drive up-Island for a second gig. With the drawing area of central Vancouver Island close to the size of Greater Victoria, it would be easy to see a venue of over 5,000 seats fill up for world class names and celebrities.
Of course, the Western Hockey League would be an ideal major tenant, guaranteeing 40-plus evenings of top quality junior hockey. That would also be a regional draw, as hockey fans would jump at the chance to see star players who are literally steps away from the National Hockey League.
In reality, the multiplex should have been built before a conference centre in Nanaimo. A multiplex, drawing crowds of several thousand people to most events, would be a magnet for another nearby hotel, since attendees may want to stay overnight after the event, and having something to eat and drink.
Some who agree that we do need a multiplex envision such a facility either at Beban Park, or even the Nanaimo Curling Club. That would be a mistake, because there isn't a business core around either location that would benefit. Prince George is a prime example of that, as their multiplex is north of the downtown core, and beyond walking distance. Parking isn't a problem, but there's nothing else in the immediate area in regards to restaurants in particular.
Kelowna is an excellent example, in that their multiplex was built a stone's throw from the shores of Lake Okanagan, in an area of town that could best be described as "run down".
Today, their Prospera Place is in the centre of a rejuvenated downtown core, with restaurants, high rises and a major hotel and casino right across the street. It is the place to be, and a hive of positive activity.
We need a replacement for Frank Crane Arena, and this time we need to go bigger, at over 5,000 seats minimum. It absolutely should go downtown, and the Wellcox property is a perfect fit.
We need creative ways to pay for it other than tagging taxpayers with yet another hike, and that will take some work. But now is the time to do it and tell the city we need it on Wellcox land.
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