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Funding to finish pier project approved in principle despite concerns over high cost

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
March 8th, 2023

The city will be moving ahead with spending over $860,000 to finish its pier project despite cash crunch concerns expressed by some councillors.

City council passed third reading March 3 on a motion to direct city staff to include in the Capital budget $861,244 in 2023 for the canopy portion of the City Pier Project.

As a follow-up to the Hall Street Pier Project presentation made at the Feb. 14 council meeting, staff prepared a business plan for funding the canopy portion of the project, outlining potential sources of revenue that could be generated from the amenity, through event fees and parking.

The business plan outlined a range of scenarios, with a mid-level case being a reasonable estimate for revenue ($47,692), along with a high (125 per cent) and low (75 per cent) range for comparison.

“Event revenues would be derived from tent and space rentals to vendors and those wishing to book the canopy space for events,” said city chief financial officer Chris Jury in his report to council. “Some thought would be taken around the balance between paid event rentals and keeping the space open to the public.”

Another source of revenue could be to increase use of the current parking lot that exists near the pier, he added.

Although Coun. Jesse Peneiro liked the business plan, he didn’t support the intent.

“The issue is we are potentially being forced into hyper-monetization of public space in order to pay for something we may or may not really need,” he said.

He explained that the city already had several markets and events at the moment, none of them had a canopy and all of them were doing just fine throughout the weather conditions.

“We will use this (pier) as it stands, just as we use other public spaces in town, and not having that albatross over our necks that we paid almost a million dollars for it and we need to pay it off (isn’t worth it),” he said.

The four-season amenity argument for the creation of a canopy on the pier seemed a little too optimistic, considering the location, he continued.

“It’s freezing down there and I don’t know that a roof over top of it and no walls and no ability to heat it is going to change that. So I would be surprised if somebody that is having a February wedding chooses to have it on that pier, regardless of what sort of roof you would put on it,” he said.

The canopy also doesn’t meet the goal that it will be a visual landmark to draw people down to the pier and the waterfront, Peneiro said.

“It’s beautiful as it is down there right now. I actually enjoy not having something in the way. The lake is beautiful, the mountains are beautiful, and if you can’t see that you are not looking,” he said. “The cost is too high for something that is not essential.”

Coun. Leslie Payne agreed that a lack of canopy would not detract from the waterfront, and that it was cold down on the waterfront.

She also asked how many events could the city realistically host at the pier with so many other, already established venues.

“So what is the need going to be on a four-season basis for that space? … I’ve heard some ideas and none of them are 12-month of the year ideas,” she said. “I have not heard yet a reason that would move me to feel that we would need to complete this wooden canopy at this price.”

But the canopy was more than just infrastructure, said Coun. Jesse Woodward.

“Really, what solidified this for me … was this pier will be part of how Nelson is seen; all of the tourism, the photographs. It will become an iconic piece much like the orange bridge,” he said. “I think we have a few things in this town that go out into the world — the heritage buildings, the orange bridge … I really feel that with the full structure here the benefits are going to be in the long term. Pulling back on the reins at this point you take away a lot of that long-term thinking and process.”

The motion passed with Peneiro and Payne recorded as opposed.

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