Undeveloped hole a blight in city core
Dan Appell — September 1, 2010
To the Editor, Nanaimo News Bulletin
Re: Seawalk condo project on hold, Aug. 28.
I am troubled by the mayor’s attitude toward the Seawalk condo project. His attitude leaves us with a very big, ugly hole in a primary location for an indefinite amount of time.
That hole does not make this city attractive to potential investors who might contribute to the economic development of this city.
That hole does not improve the impression this city leaves on tourists who would otherwise encourage their friends to visit this city.
And that hole does not make downtown a more appealing place for us to live and visit.
That hole is costing us money, or it is making life harder for us.
That hole should be treated as a nuisance property, at the very least.
Private industry or not, the mayor has every right to say to the developers that either they develop this property to the degree that they can get financing, or fill in the hole and make the site look like a continuation of the park. Either option is not asking too much, but to ask that we put up with that hole until the developers get the financing they want is asking way too much of us.
Nanaimo’s new motto: “Build it and they won’t come (the Conference Centre); don’t build it and they won’t come either (the Seawalk condo project).”
Is it realistic to expect developers to find and commit capitalization to development in these volatile times in the real estate and financial markets?
Does the mayor indeed have every right to say what you’ve proposed he should say to the developers? Are there laws in place granting him that power? It seems to me that the only recourse available to the City of Nanaimo, corporate body that it is, is to pursue the matter through the courts. Difficult to do if council has approved a “build out” period of some years. Have mayor and council agreed to that?
Realistically, albeit harshly, for people who have fled the city centre and who now live in the north end on pensions or investments, or for retirees who have moved to Nanaimo from other areas of this province or from other provinces, also living on pensions and investments, (both groups therefore little concerned about the economy of Nanaimo), what happens to the seawalk and the downtown area is of little import. For many, downtown Nanaimo has become simply an area to be passed through if there is no other option.
“Generation M” (mall) contains two age groups: the young who live in the north end, and the retired and aging living in the same area who have both the time and the financial resources to become politically active and influential. In the minds of many members of Generation M, downtown Nanaimo and its future has become a non-issue. In their overall “cityscape” it simply has very little or no significance.
You make a very good point Dan. We should hold City Hall to a higher standard when it comes to undeveloped properties like this one. As long as eye sore sites like this are left abandoned, City Hall’s “pride of place” priority is just another empty platitude.
Wendy, seems to me Council and Staff spend a disproportionate amount of time and energy dealing with the “unsightly premises” of individual home owners. There shouldn’t be a different standard for commercial properties. If a property remains unsightly, the City has the right to bring it up to standard at the owner’s expense.
Two old sayings:
“The kid who owns the bat and ball makes the rules.” Who owns the property where the conference-centre-related hotel was to be built? Is it the City? If so, then in my opinion the City itself is an offender, yet nothing has been done. I and many others, I suspect, would classify that area as “unsightly” but that is a matter of interpretation, which councillors apply regularly at council meetings when viewing pictures of private premises about to be deemed “unsightly.” If the City is the registered owner, should I whiz down to the court house and law library to begin an action against the City as a corporation, and against council members, jointly and severally, for negligence and/or dereliction of duty as elected officials for permitting that site to sit untended?
Not having the resources to carry the case very far, up against the seemingly bottomless pockets of the City filled, of course, with our tax dollars, I wouldn’t succeed, but I could be worth something in terms of “nuisance value.” The worst case scenario might well be that I prevailed, in which case the cleanup would be borne by, again, the taxpayers of Nanaimo.
I also wonder if the provincial “recall” legislation reaches as far down as members of city councils? Any chance of a recall because of a dereliction of duty? Or failure to fulfill the legally-prescribed duties of a city councillor?
I’ve never attended a swearing-in ceremony for city councillors, my father having been elected after I’d left home, but surely somewhere in the oath of office there must be wording which could be interpreted as a promise to ensure that city bylaws are enforced.
Have they been enforced, with regard to what might be deemed to be the “unsightly premises” of the Beyond Hope Hostel, the conference centre hotel?
“Out of sight, out of mind.” If people living in the north end don’t see the unsightliness of waste areas which were committed to development (the hotel site, for example) they’re not going to be one bit bothered by them. If those sites were in *their* backyards, I’m pretty sure something would at least be in progress of some sort to deal with them.
Deja Vu, remember the old Malaspina Hotel prior to now? It sat as a shell for years.
Perhaps we could use the insight hole to create tourism, “Abandoned mine shafts create giant sink hole in Nanaimo. City undermined by an unknown number of tunnels created by mining could sink into the annals of history.”
The old Longhouse Restaurant/Chez Michal Restaurant location has taken the place of the old Malaspina site. I hope that the owners of Seawalk have the insight to not let it rot for as long as the owners of the Malaspina did (the Mayer family).
For those new to this city, the Malaspina Hotel sat empty or a concrete eyesore for a couple of decades until the Mayer family finally sold it.
What gets my goat is that the Seawalk project infringes on City Park Property with their construction shed and other crap. Insight developments must be forced to remove any of their belongings from the City Park immediately!
I don’t know. This is a slippery slope. The city can not and should not (once again) act as the developer! In fact, although I agree that the company, Insight, should bring this to a respectable level they can not get funding to continue said project without support from the financial systems in Canada, which if you haven’t gathered are not exactly into lending money right now.
So, should they clean up, sure but who do you want to secure the loan to proceed with the project? If anyone thinks that the City will or should spend more tax dollars addressing this then I’ve clearly misunderstood.
Having the City secure the loan for a civic project is different, albeit still risky in this economic climate but not the same as condos.
On the subject of foundations, well there are many ways to redesign that to address the shafts below – that, costs money, some foresight and a creative engineer. All of which exist here locally but it would mean priorities of those that control what is left of the money bag.
So, are you trying to encourage developers to come to Nanaimo or discourage them?
What do you see as a reasonable time line from start to finish that you would hold a developer to?
Would you insist they have all financing secured and iron clad building contracts in place before they can put the first shovel in the ground??
Jim: What would be wrong with demanding secured financing and iron clad building contracts before they put the first shovel in the ground? Are we looking for developers or are we fishing for speculators?
Ron, I didn’t say there is anything wrong with it, just wanting to know if that is the kind of policy we would like to see adopted and if so, what kind of time lines etc. would you put on it?
A few points to consider when crafting such a policy. How far ‘out’ would a general contractor have to guarantee a price? How do you secure the cost of materials which are subject to market fluctuations? In the end would this policy actually result in a higher cost?
I used to be in the electrical contracting business, and the only way I could secure my copper wire costs, was to buy a tractor trailer load at a time. Otherwise, it went up and down with the market. I know I would never have been able to guarantee a price unless I was sure I had well padded it, and even then 12 months out would be a stretch.
As to prices, the developer of the ‘hole’ downtown, said in the Bulletin that at the height of the crazy pricing, they were looking at $52 million to build, which was just pure greed and nonsense. Today, they have prices ranging from $35 – $42 million to build the same building. Of course in today’s market, not much on this scale is being built anywhere.
Just a few random thoughts to consider when recommending a policy.
I think Wendy makes a couple of good points. She notes an acute lack of interest by the larger public. This indifference allows our politicians and other civic leaders to get away with doing so little. It really is discouraging.
She also said that if we are going to expect Insite to clean up it’s site, then we should also expect the same of the cities’ hotel site. I agree. I’m not advocating anything fancy. Level it and plant some grass. At least it would be producing oxogen and be a nice place to sunbath.
Even for the Insite project which involves a lot more fill, the expense isn’t that much. They get their fill wholesale. Relative to the size of Insite’s present operations the cost is chump change.
Once the financing is in place the grass and fill are easy to remove.
However, the option I would prefer for the Insite location is to develop to the extent of available financing. This would mean a smaller building and a loss for Insite relative to their larger project, but it would also generate revenue, where waiting for the financial conditions to improve does not. Of course, this represents a risk that Insite has probably considered. I wouldn’t compel Insite to take that risk, but I, personally, would prefer that they did.
Also, I think Ron’s point is very valid. A building permit should be granted based on a projected completion date. A developer who extends building beyond that date, should be required to pay for an additional permit. Remember the additional time spent developing a site represents a loss of tax revenue. I’m not saying the cost of a building permit should make up for a loss of revenue, but it should be used an incentive to get a job done on time. Also, part of the building permit should require that no work be started until all financing is secure.
If these policies had been in place it is doubtful that Malispina project would have dragged on for as long as it did. We really do make it way too easy for certain developers.
What most people forget is that the Malaspina was not ONE project, but a series of failed projects, some of which were pie in the sky and others that required the sale of the property. Only the original shared office space project had the support of the owners of the property. None of the others were put together by the owners but were projects put together to try to help do something with the project including the proposed conference center on that site. Don’t blame the developers for dragging out that site.
Wasn’t the Malaspina site, the original location for the conference centre??
The City’s own guidelines (from their own Downtown Design Guidelines document)
• Owners of vacant or underutilized downtown sites are encouraged to maintain street-edge
defi nition and visual continuity, and to establish an attractive façade along the street until
development can occur.
• Construction boarding and fencing along public boundaries shall be designed for safety
and beauty, and allow an area for public viewing of the construction activity behind.
The Malaspina property was considered as a location for the conference centre (and plans were drawn and many discussions held), but the owners of the property wanted an emormous amount more in dollars than the City was willing to concede, hence the reason why the property for the existing conference centre was bought before informing the citizens and property owners of their intention of what the property was for which could have resulted in a higher cost for the development.
George, lets be clear: the Malaspina property was sold to a higher bidder than the City. The City wanted it for less than market value and were told by the owner — as you or I would have told them — take a hike. Without the property secured, the City went ahead and invested in the pilings in the harbour which were to support the building. Can you imagine a private business doing anything that dumb?
The Downtown Design Guidelines document was a proposal done by an out of touch firm from out of town for the City. We need to remember that those that “Blue Sky” are not always to be taken seriously.