Nelson’s Hall Street pier construction project is well over budget, and some city council members think they should scale it back by not building a planned $861,244 canopy.
On Feb. 14, council addressed this in a lengthy discussion that was both philosophical and financial. They decided to slow down the project and not build the canopy while management staff comes up with a business plan for how the canopy could pay for itself.
“As council, we are where the buck stops,” said Councillor Jesse Woodward as he proposed the need for the business plan. “We will wear this, we carry it, and I worry about the perception.”
The project, which originally started as an employment boost during the pandemic to fix a city pier that was in need or replacement, has since run into cost overruns, supply chain problems and inflation.
The plan consists of a new pier with a wood canopy that would provide year-round shade and shelter for people and events. The project also includes a temperature-controlled shelter for a historic speedboat, seating on the pier, and a swimming area off the pier.
Its original budget of $2.6 million was adjusted to $3.5 million in 2021. The plan was to pay for it with two already received grants – $1 million from the province and $500,000 from the Columbia Basin Trust – while the remaining $2 million would be drawn from city construction reserves.
Today, the budget for the project is $4.6 million, public works director Colin Innes told council on Feb. 14.
To date the city has spent $2,277,697 on the project, which it considers to be 69 per cent done, with the canopy and some other parts of the pier still to be built. Because of the cost, the matter came to council for discussion.
Innes offered council three choices.
Option 1: Finish the pier with no canopy. This will cost another $1,485,383, already budgeted, resulting in a total project cost of $3,763,080, which is $222,579 over the 2021 budget.
Option 2: Finish the canopy in 2023. This would add another $861,244, for a total project cost of $4,624,324.
Option 3: Finish the canopy in 2024. This would add another $1,061,544 for a total project cost of $4,824,624.
In other words, Innes asked, would council like to build the canopy this year, put it off until next year, or not build it at all?
Council was divided into two camps: Mayor Janice Morrison and Councillor Keith Page wanted to push ahead and get the job done this year, and they were backed by city manager Kevin Cormack. Councillors Jesse Woodward, Jesse Pineiro, Rik Logtenberg and Leslie Payne were concerned about the cost overrun and about council spending large amounts of money on what these councillors consider to be little more than a tourist attraction.
Councillor Kate Tait recused herself from the discussion because of a potential perceived conflict of interest.
Morrison and Page
Morrison said when she stands on Silica Street and looks down Hall Street to the water, she doesn’t see any reason to go down there.
“I want to envision something that stands proud,” she said, adding that she wants to complete the vision of Hall Street to draw people to the waterfront.
The canopy, she said, “will look good when lit up — a glow of warm wood, I just think it’s very attractive.” She said she wants to see it used for gatherings and weddings.
Morrison said spending the $861,000 would not mean an increase in taxation, and Cormack said that the city has the resources for multiple projects, through various reserves, borrowing, and grants, without increasing property taxes.
Morrison and Cormack both said tourism experts have often said that Nelson under-utilizes its waterfront.
Page argued the city should not lose momentum on the project and should build the canopy this year.
“We are already here, we need to have the clarity to get it done,” he said, adding that delay and looking for more grants will eat up too much staff time while the project gets even more expensive.
Page said the pier and year-round events and activity at the canopy — “the weddings, the music, the cover from changes in the weather” — would eventually indirectly compensate the city for the extra construction expense now.
“Delay will chop the head off this project. I believe we need to finish.”
Architect weighs in
Matthew Stanley, whose company, Stanley Office of Architecture, designed the project for the city, attended the meeting and was asked by council to state the implications of either delaying or not building the canopy.
He advocated strongly for continuing, stating that the canopy is an integral part of the architectural vision for the pier.
“The option to not do the canopy is problematic,” he said.
It would threaten relationships with the two grant funders, he said, and it would mean the pier would not be suitable for year-round events, which he described as a key concept in the design. He said it would also run counter to the city’s desire to connect downtown the the waterfront along the Hall Street corridor.
Stanley said the canopy would be a large, meaningful, artistic landmark that he referred to as an “iconic gesture.”
“It’s not just a sculpture that was added on to the project at the end. And it’s not a pretty looking thing that we can just remove and save $800,000 there.”
Woodward and Logtenberg
Councillor Rik Logtenberg said he is opposed to building the canopy because the project is over budget, and the money spent on it could be used for other things.
“I’m not talking about delaying it, but just let’s not do it.”
He suggested there are other options for creating a covered space at the pier including large canvas structures that can be taken down.
Logtenberg and Woodward said it is a matter of balancing priorities, and that money spent on one thing means it won’t be spent on another, in a town with many needed projects.
Woodward cited a recent unsuccessful grant application for the Rosemont part of the city’s active transportation plans that will now need to seek other funding.
“I understand the philosophy, I love art, I love sculpture,” said Woodward. “We’re a tourism town, there’s so many benefits, but there’s a lot of poverty in our town. And there’s a housing crisis. I don’t know how to put the two together.”
Payne and Pineiro
Councillor Leslie Payne said what attracts her to the lake is the water, not a canopy, and that she did not move to Nelson to live in a world class town.
She says she has reached to “many, many” people to discuss this and got a variety of viewpoints.
“But I didn’t hear anyone say, ‘Woo, let’s go!’”
Councillor Jesse Pineiro acknowledged that the pier project came to fruition before he was on council, and he respects the fact that to some extent “the ship has sailed.”
But he said he probably would not have supported it had he been on the previous council.
“The landmark thing does not resonate with me. A lot of people in the community are skeptical of who this will benefit and who it is for. It is very striking, but incongruous with what this town is.”
City manager says the city can afford it
City manager Kevin Cormack entered the discussion many times as an advocate for continuing to build the canopy. He said the extra money seems like a lot in the short term, but this is a long-term asset and therefore worth the expense.
It is not, he said, an either-or question.
“We are not a community that if we do project A we can’t do project B. We can do both.”
Referring to a mention of the housing crisis, he pointed out that municipal governments have no authority to build housing although they can change zoning and other regulations to encourage developers to do so.
The project, Cormack said, is mandated by the city’s Sustainable Waterfront and Downtown Master Plan, created in 2011.
He said the old museum building on Anderson Street is up for sale and the city would probably get $500,000 for it. Land near the pier and the airport, Cormack suggested, could be made into a paid parking lot, and chief financial officer Chris Jury estimated the city could make $50,000 per year from this.
Woodward said he wants to see a business plan for how the canopy will pay for itself, “rather than just we could do this or we could do that.”
He moved that the matter be referred back to management staff to create such a business plan, and council voted in favour.
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