A proposal to turn the Village-owned marina into year-round facility won favourable reviews from councillors at the May 25 meeting of Nakusp council.
“It’s very bold,” said Mayor Tom Zeleznik after hearing a presentation from Grant Smith on his vision for the marina.
The 40-minute presentation by Smith outlined an ambitious plan to expand the number of slips for boats at the marina, add water, sewer and electrical services, and (eventually) facilities for persons with disabilities.
“This will adapt to an existing facility, just use that facility way better,” he told council. “If we can draw traffic to the village like I’m hoping, that will be fairly big for the businesses here.”
Smith has spent much of the last year seeking provincial environmental and land use permissions to operate the marina. He first expressed interest in running the marina last summer, when council issued a request for proposals for taking over management of the facility. The 40-year-old marina became a municipal orphan when the volunteer Nakusp Boat Club folded in 2020, leaving the Village to run the facility.
Other than emergency maintenance to replace the breakwater, the facility has mostly been in a holding pattern since. That will change if Smith takes over the marina, he told council.
Smith plans expansion of the facility in several stages. Much of the existing dock and slips are ending their useful life, and Smith would start by building 60 new slips for boats. But crucial to his plans are to add a fueling station, and water, sewer, and electrical systems to the existing structure.
He says that would eliminate a bottleneck to growth of the marina.
“I would really like this to be a 12-month facility,” he said. “There are a lot of fishermen who use the lake December-January-February. But they can’t use the lake if there is no fuel.”
He said he believes the bulk of his customers would come from boaters already in the region, and is looking to draw traffic from Sicamous and Salmon Arm. “Because rates are fairly high there, and there’s no moorage available," he said. "And there’s a lot of people who want to come to Nakusp and the Arrow Lakes, but there’s no fuel and no facilities.”
After the first phase of improvements, Smith plans even more expansion. He said depending on demand, he would move the breakwater to increase the marina size in subsequent years. He would add 150 more boat slips, allowing for larger boats to be moored at the harbour.
“Phases three and four are fairly big-ticket items, and subject to moorage demands… if we have the individuals wishing to lease the space, we will go forward with it,” he said.
Further down the line, Smith sees offering services for people with mobility issues and other disabilities, to offer a unique boating experience. “I think if we can provide that service in Nakusp, and have proper wheelchair lifts for the boats and kayaks, it’s going to be a real plus for the area,” he said.
Councillors noted such a service would complement the Mount Abriel bike trails project, which is also offering accessible facilities.
But much of the growth depends on how many boaters can be convinced to bring their boats to Nakusp – and there were few hard numbers presented to council on that issue. Smith admitted to council he had only done “preliminary market research” on the marina’s potential. But he was confident that Nakusp could gain business from the saturated Shuswap area.
“The writing is on the wall,” he told council. “It’s just a matter of doing it, and doing it properly to attract these potential lessees to the region.”
Smith said while moorage in the Shuswap can range from $4,200-$4,800 annually, he would offer a flat rate of $3,000 for any sized boat.
“Everything is based on, I think, taking advantage of people, paying per foot,” said Smith. “They feel that if you can own a 30-foot boat, you have more money than someone with a 20-foot boat. So they’ll charge you more.
“I am not going to discriminate. I’m going to do something completely different… I don’t believe in gouging, taking advantage of people because of that.”
But the lack of hard numbers for his plan had Nakusp Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Robinson asking about long-term viability of the project.
“Setting the rates in such a way, yes to attract people to come, but it’s about amortizing costs and having reserves in the long-term,” he said. “Because in 40 years I don’t want the council in that day to be going through this whole situation again.”
There are plenty of other issues that have to be settled before the project can move forward.
Smith needs provincial approvals to run a commercial operation on the lake; any expansion plans would have to come with a business plan, engineering and environmental impact studies, and he has to attract more investors. He's estimated the project could cost more than $2 million.
And investors will want to see what sort of working arrangement he will have with the Village, which also has to be settled. Council could choose to lease the facility to Smith, enter into a public-private partnership with him, or sell it to him outright. Those are all discussions for the future, staff say.
Council agreed to write a letter confirming it has “agreed in principle to work with Mr. Grant Smith to achieve the redevelopment of the Nakusp Marina”.
The letter notes Smith is required to get the necessary leases or licences to occupy the foreshore and aquatic lands from the province, and to do that he’ll have to “develop and submit an acceptable business plan and detailed application to the Province.”
“Formal legal agreements between the Village of Nakusp and Mr. Smith may be negotiated and executed after Mr. Smith receives the required approval and authorization from the Province,” the letter reads.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice