Revitalizing downtown Nanaimo has long been an issue in the Harbour City, and a big piece of the puzzle has been Terminal Avenue.
It’s a big commuter road and it hasn’t really changed for decades.
The lack of development was held up by history, but a recent decision by the Ministry of Environment should pave the way for a new future.
“This is a big piece to unlock some of those properties,” said Darren Moss, chair of Planning Design & Development Nanaimo.
The story dates back to the 1850’s when coal mining took off in Nanaimo.
Mine owners didn’t go far to get rid of the underground waste rock known as coal tailings. They dumped the excess rock in the bay, which eventually became the foundation for the downtown today.
The ground wasn’t a problem for property owners until the early 2000’s, when the provincial government introduced new drinking water standards across B.C.
“To try to protect underground aquifers, and it was left to each individual property owner to make [an] application to say this should not apply to my site because there’s not an aquifer or there’s not an accessible aquifer,” said Moss.
Applying individually was expensive. With all that waste rock underneath the Terminal corridor, 145 property owners banded together and argued the drinking water standard shouldn’t apply to their properties, and now after more than a decade-long process the province has agreed.
“They acknowledged that their drinking water standards should not apply to those properties, which basically simplifies anyone who wants to move forward with a development or a sale of their properties,” said Moss.
Nanaimo’s acting mayor says this will help unlock the city’s downtown potential.
“This opens up the door to cost savings,” said Janice Perrino. “You know, these businesses that want to do development, it’ll save them time and money and it just makes the whole process easier. We expect to see quite a bit more development because of this, so we’re absolutely thrilled.”
The City of Nanaimo has just started Terminal Avenue upgrades that will include a storm sewer replacement, raised crosswalks, new lighting and rerouting sidewalks.
The upgrades are part of an attempt to make the area more desirable, and it, along with the province’s determination, is expected to also lead to private investment.
“Financially it’s a huge deal and it really takes an unknown out of that development piece moving forward,” said Moss.
Moss says the outcome wouldn’t have happened without a collaboration of effort including the former Downtown Business Improvement Association, the former Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation and countless volunteers.
Earlier this month the city put up a property for sale on the corner of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue with hopes a developer will step forward.