Thursday, March 03, 2016

Nanaimo Downtown Ferry - Never-ending Story

Another 'Made-in-Nanaimo' Saga

For about as long as I can remember one of the key pieces to making a success of Nanaimo's potential was a downtown to downtown ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver. We've had at least two mayors now making that and a downtown hotel the top of their 'wish list'. It should be noted, that neither of these projects have ever been supported by credible feasibility studies. They have made good talking points for some of our fearless leaders, who let's face it, need to be able to say something other than blah, blah, blah.

I can remember when there actually was a downtown to downtown ferry service which was also a car ferry. I doubt their schedules would have made them ideal for the hordes of folk who are going to move to Nanaimo to take advantage of cheap real estate, while working in Vancouver for a pay cheque, simply not available in Nanaimo. That does seem to be the top song on the hit parade of those touting the ferry as Nanaimo's saviour.

IFSL - the on-again off-again ferry service

I think 2013 was the first we heard of the IFSL company's proposal for a downtown to downtown foot ferry from Nanaimo to Vancouver. Their first offer, which was rejected was looking for the city to become quasi-partners with some pretty sweet subsidies for parking, land use etc. etc.

That proposal was finally refined until we were told that IFSL had signed a lease with the city of Nanaimo which would see the ferry located on the old Gadd site on the waterfront. I think we were told the lease would kick in in March of last year. Turns out, that lease wasn't really a lease the way you might think of a lease, as the company never did pay the city any monthly rental. Primarily due, to the fact that they did not have the funding to bring the service to market.

The service became a bit of a carrot during the last provincial election with local PC Candidate Mark McDonald promising his party would see the ferry happen 'after' he was elected. He never did explain why 'his' party hadn't done it already. Well, Mark wasn't elected and that seemed to close the book on the IFSL story in Nanaimo.

It should be noted at this point, the 'lease' the city had with IFSL had been agreed to by a unanimous Council vote. At that time I believe the city (previous Council) spent on the order of $100,000 to service the Gadd site.

Not long after the federal election, the Nanaimo Port Authority made the announcement they were withdrawing from the MOU with the City regarding the ferry service, and were going to explore an RFP on their own to see if they could get a ferry service off the ground, since the IFSL seemed to be dead in the water.

IFSL -  has financing in place, service could start in six months

After the NPA announced their intentions to pursue other avenues for a ferry service, the city of Nanaimo although not immediately, decided to agree with the NPA, essentially abandoning their association with IFSL.

At about this time IFSL claims to have finalized their financing with an investor capable of bringing the $75 million venture to Nanaimo and approached the city in an effort to secure a lease on the Gadd site on the waterfront. This is the same site the city had agreed to lease to IFSL in their expired agreement. It is my understanding, that while it was referred to as a lease, IFSL never paid the city any money as part of that arrangement.

A spokesman for IFSL says they contacted the city of Nanaimo on two occassions advising they were in a position to proceed, which went unanswered by the city. IFSL filed to appear as a delegation before council two weeks ago, in an effort to get the conversation going and make the public aware of their position. This seems to have prompted a reply from the city basically saying the city had no interest in entering into another agreement with IFSL and invited them to participate in the RFP process the city and the port authority are authoring.

As of today, the RFP which may actually be an Expression of Interest has not been made public.



  1. I have never felt such 'civic' pain before-----
    it is excruciating !

  2. You forgot to mention that the Island Ferry delegate failed to show up at the city hall meeting.

  3. The RFP is being organized, so wait for it to go out and see what companies respond. If the IFSL proposal is the best and they can prove they have all their money and ducks lined up this time they'll get picked - if not, oh well. That's business.

    And no more tax subsidies either. We already put $100,000 of city services into the Gadd site.

  4. If there is some much more interest out there, why don't they just 'come' and tell us ?
    What is the point of an RFP?
    A touch redundant no ?


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