Question re: Hotel

Ron Bolin: May 15, 2014
On Tuesday morning, May 13, I received an email with the header: “Question re: Hotel”. This is what it contained:

I’m a reporter for The New York Times and I’m working on a story that touches tangentially on something that came up recently in Nanaimo. Do you have a minute to talk?

Stephanie Saul
Staff Writer
The New York Times

Intrigued, but skeptical of what a New York Times reporter might want of me, I immediately went to the New York Times web site to see what I could find. It was not difficult to find that she is not only a NYT reporter; she is a prolific NYT reporter. I emailed back to say that I would be in for the morning and soon after got a call from her.

She indicated that she was working on a story involving Wenliang Wang, and the corporation which he heads, the Rilin Group of companies (both were later easily found on the web and both are quite prominent) and that he and his company were somehow involved in a bid, unsuccessfully it seems, to build the “Conference Centre” hotel. She asked what I knew about this project and I was forced to acknowledge that I knew nothing other than the name of the company which had been selected to build the hotel, that staking was currently in progress and that construction was touted to be imminent.

I found it odd that she should be contacting me and asked what she had been told by City Hall. She indicated that her discussion with a senior member of Staff was not fruitful and felt that she was given a response bordering on the secretive. As a result she looked further and apparently found this blog.

As I knew nothing of this decision or of any bidding process associated with it, I suggested that she contact members of City Council and provided three names. I am aware that she did speak with at least one of those names and there may have been others. In my discussions with these Councillors it seemed that they knew little more about bids or offers on this project than I. And there is where her rubber hit my road…

We have been down this trail before in the matter of the selection of a contractor to build the new SARK City Administration Building. It was asserted that the firm chosen provided the best solution to the City’s problem, but despite repeated requests for verification of this conclusion by some, no evidence has been forthcoming other than the assertion that the circa $14 million spent was the best bang for the buck. In the matter of the conference hotel we are dealing with an approximately $50 million dollar project (granted our direct exposure seems to be limited to an absence of DCCs (Development Cost Charges) and a ten year exemption on property taxes). Given that both these elements would be available to anyone under current city policy circumstances, this, in itself, is not problematic.

What I do find puzzling is that we have again been through what is effectively a bid/proposal assessment process and the manner in which a final decision on which proposal is accepted is not only not known by citizens, but perhaps unclear to the “bidders” and, as far as I am able to determine thus far, our Councillors don’t seem to know much more about it than do the rest of us. The pattern used in the SARK building process has been repeated and remains as opaque as ever. What are the rules of the game and who makes such decisions? And what in the world brings a New York Times reporter to be interested in a hotel project in Nanaimo?
Your comments are requested.