The dream of transforming PlayLand into a “world-class” theme park is one step closer to becoming reality with Vancouver City Council granting the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) a $1.5-million budget to undergo detailed design and costing work.
Earlier this afternoon, City Councillors voted 8-1 on the funding request, with Adriane Carr being the sole councillor voting against the City staff-recommended proposal and Andrea Reimer and Heather Deal absent from the meeting.
This is not the approval of the $120-million, 10-year project and the conceptual designs presented in the City report, but rather it allows the PNE to create a detailed design and business case for the renewal and expansion of PlayLand. The grounds will be beautified to carry as many as six different themes to transition the park from an amusement park into a theme park.
It is anticipated that the construction costs will be funded by the municipal government, and the PNE will repay the City through the new revenues generated by the expanded PlayLand.
PNE staff have been working on the proposal for years, and planning accelerated after City Council in 2010 approved the Hastings Park Master Plan, which outlined the framework for greening more of Hastings Park, improving the Fair, expanding PlayLand from 15 acres to 22 acres, and addressing transportation issues from the growth in attendance.
Over the last 20 years, attendance for both the Fair and PlayLand have dropped, with many citing that the rides and attractions are dated. Furthermore, greening work performed in the late-1990s and early-2000s resulted in the loss of over 200,000 square feet in indoor exhibition space, effectively reducing the PNE’s ability to provide more entertainment programming.
“I used to go to PlayLand often growing up and took our kids, and now onto the grandchildren,” said Councillor Tim Stevenson. “But I’m also one of those who dropped off from going, and I think that this shift over to the theme park is really aimed at myself too as it will draw us back. I really think this is going to be an exciting future and it’s the perfect location.”
Councillor Raymond Louie, who is also the Chair of PNE’s Board of Directors, echoed the need for providing PlayLand with the makeover it needs to ensure it continues to be a relevant entertainment institution in the city.
“We have infrequent visitors to this Fair and this place, and we’re trying to redesign and reimagine this space so that it can be more welcoming for many more people,” said Louie. “It is too great of an opportunity to pass up.”
Reiterating the comments he made during yesterday’s initial City Council discussion on the project, Councillor Kerry Jang implored PNE staff to do more exploration on the themed lands and open it to public consultation. The six themed lands were created by Forrec, a global theme park entertainment design consulting company that has worked on projects such as Universal Studios, Six Flags, and Legoland.
The proposed themes include: Main Street for a new entrance into the site, forest-themed Adventure Land, the Coastal Village based on B.C.’s fisheries centred around a new lake, an urban-themed District, and a Wonderland-themed area with bright and oversized objects designed for kids.
“Really, do look at the themes,” said Jang. “I know I raised that yesterday and you said you’d engage the public about that. I had a discussion with my kids last night and they said, ‘Well, it’s great that you’ll have a little boat thing but I can just go to Steveston. So why should I go to the PNE to see what I can already see? We’re so close to the mountains, why do I need an alpine theme?'”
“That’s the diversity of opinions we have to look at. We have to really engage the public to make it their park as supposed to something a consultant or someone else thinks is going to work here.”
On the matter of transportation concerns, as PlayLand’s expansion will take over a large parking lot located on the northeast area of Hastings Park, PNE CEO Michael McDaniel said the Master Plan already takes it into consideration by turning the infield of Hastings Racecourse into a parking lot. Access into this new parking area will be underground.
PNE staff are expected to return to City Council with a detailed design and financial report in summer or fall 2017. The final City approval for the project will be made at that time.