Nanaimo: THRIVING ANCHOR OF MID-ISLAND LIFE
From southern tip to northern shore, the past decade has brought unprecedented change to Vancouver Island, and nowhere is this more striking than in the Nanaimo area.
If it has been awhile since you took a look around, the changes are evident right from the waterfront. The BC Ferries terminal renovation to its aging Departure Bay terminal, completed in 2008, included a new foot passenger building and expanded parking. Renovations at the Gabriola ferry terminal, upgrades to the Quinsam ferry and three new Super C Class ferries operating from Nanaimo have made accessing the region more convenient and comfortable.
Increased accessibility is a theme carried on to the Nanaimo Airport as well. Privatized in 1990, the airport is operated for the benefit of the entire region by the not-for-profit Nanaimo Airport Commission which includes directors nominated by the areas municipalities. Airport improvements have included a 2,400-foot taxiway extension for a total runway length of 6,600 feet, high-intensity lighting, lead-in lights and an instrument landing system to accommodate larger aircraft including the 737-800. Phase 2 is scheduled for completion March 2011 and will include a terminal building expansion, parking lot expansion, and wastewater treatment plant. Improvements will allow the airport to attract more carriers and offer more destinations to mid-Island travellers and commercial enterprises.
Nanaimos downtown is emerging as the vibrant heart of mid-island life. Over the next decade, the Nanaimo Port Authority envisions transforming the Assembly Wharf into a community transportation core that could incorporate ferries, buses, float planes, trains, and cruise ships. A new, $22 million float¬ing cruise ship terminal, scheduled to open this spring, will eliminate the need to tender passengers ashore, and will include a welcoming centre. The five-year goal is to welcome between 30 and 40 cruise ships annually to Nanaimo with a corresponding benefit in the form of economic activity and employment. New and redeveloped commercial and living space is revitalizing the city core. Shopping centres, restaurants, and hotels serve the growing number of people drawn downtown by public spaces that include the New Nanaimo Museum, Shaw Auditorium and state-of-the-art Vancouver Island Conference Centre (VICC). New businesses continue to choose downtown because of the extensive public and private improvements completed, planned or underway. New tourism businesses are also popping up in anticipation of an increased flow of cruise ship passengers.
Of course, Nanaimo is not just for visitors. Residential densification and downtown living has increased over the past few years, with the construction of several new residential condo developments and the master plan includes residential, commercial, and light industrial developments for thriving community life. Residents enjoy walking to the waterfront promenade, downtown restaurants, art galleries and shops, and live performance venues such as the Port Theatre. Expanded parks and plazas provide focal points for outdoor living and recreation against the stunning backdrop of mountain and ocean views.
Restoration and reconstruction of the historical 1920s E&N Railway Station entails fixing the buildings foundation and restoring the exterior, as well as upgrading the stations interior spaces to a modern standard and including new commercial spaces. The rehabili¬tated station is just one more example of the areas commitment to long-term viability.
Others include a new 50-year Campus Master Plan for Vancouver Island University. Steadily increasing student enrolment has led to renovating and revitalizing the surrounding area including the redevelopment of the old Harewood Mall, now rebranded as the University Plaza. Enhanced options for post-secondary education add to the community dynamic and make it easier for young people to pursue their career goals without leaving the region. Businesses are attracted by ready access to a growing pool of well-educated skilled workers.
Island life offers more opportunity and diversity than ever before and Nanaimo, with its combination of strategic location and community vision, is setting the pace.
Photo curtesy of Ted Kuzemski and Nanaimo Economic Development Office