Central Park: Vancouver Park Board blocked from Hastings Park governance

The park board will not take control of Hastings Park much to the disappointment of residents and community groups with a vested interest in the 51-hectare property.

At a special meeting Thursday afternoon, the Vision Vancouver-dominated city council voted eight to two to leave governance of the park with the Pacific Nation Exhibitions board of directors. NPA Coun. Elizabeth Ball and Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr voted against the recommendation.

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Hastings Park is undergoing a massive $310.5 million redevelopment, so the question of who should manage the park was under question. While city staff and independent auditor KPMG recommended governance remain with the PNE, some residents and community groups were pushing for the park board to take control. In May, the park board went on the record requesting governance of the park. A third option was to have a city department, such as engineering, manage the property.

Many residents of the area contacted me prior to the vote suggesting it was a conflict of interest to allow Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie to vote on the issue since hes chair of the PNE board. They argued it would be in his best interest to vote in favour of maintaining the status quo. But Louie has insisted to me in the past there is no conflict due to the fact hes appointed to represent the city on the board. Council did vote in favour to make some changes to the board before 2014 when a new group of directors will be named. In an interview Friday, Louie said exactly what that new board will look like has yet to be confirmed, but added it will be "skills based."

According to the citys website, the board has the power to enact bylaws for the regulation and management of the PNE, "which govern and protect the business, borrowing, and issuing of securities, as well as the conduct and remuneration of directors and committees of the organization." Board meetings are closed to the public.

Louie says he doubts the park board was fully aware of what taking over Hastings Park would entail. The park board manages Empire Field at the park, while Hastings Racecourse is operated by the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.

"What the park board failed to realize is theres a race track and even an emergency E-com building on the site," says Louie. "And they just dont have the expertise to handle that. This is much more complex than just running a park."

Louie noted the recommendation to leave the PNE board in charge of Hastings Park came from an independent auditor.

"Its a complex issue so an external consultant was brought in," says Louie.

Vision Vancouver commissioner Aaron Jasper says while the park board was not equipped to immediately take control, hes confident that within a short time it could have done a great job.

Now, Jasper says, its the park boards job to support the city in any way it can in making Hastings Park and the PNE a success.

"And its time for the city to start mending fences with these community groups and residents," said Jasper. "The good thing is now that the decision has been made, its very clear that if anyone has a problem with Hastings Park that they should contact my colleagues at city hall."

Disgruntled residents, community groups and politicians took to Twitter Thursday afternoon to voice their displeasure the decision.

"The loss of a democratically governed park: @VisionVancouver blocks park board control of Hastings Park," wrote @thecity_fm.

Former park board commissioner Anita Romaniuk wrote, "Hastings Park Advocates Press Conference 31-07-2013 Beautiful day, but Vancouver Council didn't listen." NPA park board commissioner Melissa De Genova took to Twitter as well with, "shocking that vision council and park board split very important issue. Who is greener than Park Board?" Also weighing in on the argument was @KaraArdan who wrote, "@MayorGregor did you know That Green paint is NOT green space! #Vancouver #greenwashing."

sthomas@vancourier.com

twitter.com/sthomas10

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