A rendering of the OceanExp ocean discovery centre project. (Checkwitch Poiron Architects Inc. image)

Waterfront ocean centre attraction still high on Nanaimo’s want list

‘Not a time to dream small dream’: City confirms support for Nanaimo Deep Discovery Association

City council reiterated this week that it supports efforts to try to build an ocean discovery centre on Nanaimo’s waterfront.

The Nanaimo Deep Discovery Association updated councillors about the project Monday at a special meeting, asking for a letter of support.

The city previously spent $65,000 to help pay for an economic feasibility study for the centre, but on Monday council was asked only for an expression of support, not money. Ocean discovery centre representatives said they intend to pursue funding from other levels of government, but wanted to be able to provide evidence of stakeholder support.

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“We have an opportunity to develop and design this facility like no other in the world, and we’re getting the attention of organizations around the world,” said Tim Tessier, deep discovery association board member.

Lorne Hildebrand, association president, told councillors the vision for the project has changed over the years, and ideas about underwater viewing have been scrapped due to costs and logistical and environmental concerns. The OceanExp centre would instead focus on virtual ocean exploration and education.

“We’ve changed based on what our experts are telling us is buildable and maintainable,” Hildebrand said.

Tessier read an excerpt from a letter from Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Mike Wyse, which referred to the ocean discovery centre as “an opportunity to continue to champion reconciliation by collaborating together on issues as important as ocean sustainability, education and economic development.”

Coun. Ben Geselbracht said though he “wasn’t overly blown away with the economic potential” found in the feasibility study, he said liked the ocean discovery association’s vision and sees the centre as playing a role in ocean protection and in helping youths relate to the ocean.

Mayor Leonard Krog was in favour of the letter of support, saying “it’s not a time to dream any small dreams,” and Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she thinks the project is tangible.

“It could be very exciting and we have some of the best cold-water diving in the world, so I could see linkages with that,” she said.

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Coun. Erin Hemmens and Coun. Tyler Brown voted against the letter of support; Hemmens said she hasn’t heard from people that an ocean discovery centre is a community priority.

The previous Nanaimo city council also provided an expression of support in 2018.

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A rendering of the OceanExp ocean discovery centre project. (Checkwitch Poiron Architects Inc. image)

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