A Crystal Clear Waterfront Vision
Recognized as one of the fastest growing cities in British Columbia, Nanaimo is increasingly becoming a destination of choice for new residents and tourists from around the world. The ever-increasing popularity of Nanaimo, Vancouver Island’s second largest city, is undoubtedly a result of the geography that inspired its appellation: “The Harbour City”.
Nestled in the heart of the south coast, Nanaimo is home to a Waterfront district that stretches across the City. Nanaimo’s Waterfront features some of the City’s most spectacular scenery and is rapidly becoming its heart and soul. It is a waterfront that has witnessed significant change over the past 50 years and, more importantly, is now becoming the focal point for future growth and exciting revitalization.
For decades, Nanaimo’s Waterfront, particularly as it relates to the waterfront along Newcastle Channel, was an industrial zone, catering to heavy, industrial based businesses characterized, not unlike other waterfront communities around the world, by a checkered history of activity. But much has changed in recent years. Today the city is moving forward with exciting plans to make Nanaimo’s Waterfront a unique, family-friendly destination for residents and tourists alike.
It is no coincidence, with the year 2020 fast approaching, that a new vision has emerged boasting 20/20 clarity in its recognition of how special Nanaimo’s Newcastle Channel Waterfront truly is. The Waterfront’s decades-long underutilization and limited exposure to the general public is being addressed in a number of ways thanks to visionary community leadership, fresh investment, and pro-active support of residents, businesses, and City planners.
“These are very exciting times for Nanaimo’s Waterfront and for everyone who lives in the Harbour City,” says Marc Stones of Stones Marina on Stewart Avenue. “There’s a heightened level of energy about it. Everyone’s committed to making Nanaimo’s waterfront the destination that it should be.”
The tens of millions of dollars in fresh investment that is being poured into Nanaimo’s Waterfront is helping to motivate and encourage even more new investment throughout the Harbour. The largest single investment on Nanaimo’s Waterfront thus far is the Nanaimo Port Authority’s new $22-million cruise ship terminal scheduled to open in May. This major project is opening to huge fanfare and is a significant addition to not only the greater waterfront, but to the City’s growing tourism industry.
“It is, without doubt, another indication that we are living in the renaissance period of Nanaimo’s Waterfront,” says Jessica Johnson, a 25-year resident of Nanaimo. “Much credit is owed to the Port Authority as well as to the City of Nanaimo, as these mega infrastructure and investment projects have helped inspire further investment in Nanaimo”.
Major infrastructural investments, including the new cruise ship terminal and the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, have encouraged more investment from the local community to drive economic development along Nanaimo’s Waterfront. This inspiration and positive growth is inspiring renewed interest in the development of hotels, residences, and tourism related businesses.
“The fact of the matter is that more and more people want to live on Nanaimo’s Waterfront,” says Ron Van Wachem, President of the Nanaimo Shipyard. “This is what makes our community so special, and what continues to attract growth and eco-friendly, sustainable development.”
Local Nanaimo family businesses, such as Stones Marina, the Nanaimo Shipyard and Waterfront Holdings Ltd., have been working very closely in collaboration with community associations, the Nanaimo Port Authority, and City planners to press ahead with the transformation of Nanaimo’s waterfront. Demand for a revitalized waterfront, in addition to progressive desires and needs, have all been incorporated with a fresh new outlook to redirect investment into Nanaimo’s Waterfront community. Tie this all in with also being a “stone’s throw” from Newcastle Island, a stunning 350 hectare provincial marine park, and you have a location like no other. One can truly appreciate that the time for Nanaimo’s Waterfront is now.
“This is really the first time that we’ve seen this level of support, this level of interest, this level of excitement, and this level of commitment to make Nanaimo’s Waterfront the destination that it deserves to be; the destination that it has always meant to have been,” says Odai Sirri, Director of Operations at Waterfront Holdings, the ownership group for the Waterfront Suites and Marina.
Indeed these are very exciting times for Nanaimo’s Waterfront and for the community in general. As the second largest city on Vancouver Island, Nanaimo has witnessed tremendous growth that has stretched the City well beyond its downtown borders to the northern and southern extremities of its Urban Containment Boundary. But times have changed. Where, in the past, urban sprawl was relied upon to help grow and support economic development for the City, economic development and focus is today reverting to the original district of Nanaimo: The Waterfront.
Renewed interest in the waterfront areas is helping to support the type of gentrification that has occurred in the Downtown core over the past few years.
The Newcastle Channel Waterfront, for example, is only a few minutes stroll from Downtown. The proximity of a new densified waterfront community will contribute as a feeder market for Downtown entertainment, shopping, services and nightlife. This enhanced market encourages an increase in activity that will quicken the pace of revitalization.
The Downtown is a community connected to its waterfront – a fact that is also true for our entire city. Nanaimo is The Harbour City, defined by what makes our surroundings, our lifestyle, so amazing. As increasing services and amenities begin to be offered in and around the downtown core, our Waterfront is the ever-present catalyst for these enhanced socio-economic developments, and further for what unites us around a common, unifying feature of our city.
Many changes are altering the landscape of our Waterfront. The City as a whole is continuing to move forward with exciting improvements. As all this progress continues, Nanaimo’s Waterfront will transition into a recognized destination for residents and tourists and it will increasingly become a community that other Cities will watch for inspiration and encouragement.