Duke Point expanding, but industrial land locked up

$103 million expansion at Nanaimo's container port draws eager investors, but future industrial development is firmly in the hands of two companies

Western Investor
March 3, 2021

Duke Point terminal, Nanaimo. | Port of Nanaimo
— Duke Point terminal, Nanaimo. | Port of Nanaimo

A $105-million public-private expansion of the Duke Point Terminal is being touted as the key to ­opening up Vancouver Island to more container shipping but industrial investors will have to wait in line for a chance to buy land.

New infrastructure will prepare the port for the future and open up import and export channels for B.C. and national producers, partners say.

 “The Duke Point Expansion Project will bring Vancouver Island to world markets and put the Island on an even playing field with the rest of Canada in terms of trade,” Donna Hais, chair of the Nanaimo Port Authority, said during a virtual press conference February 27

“This is going to provide future opportunities for a logistics hub that provides ­sustainability in terms of food, and it’s also going to provide excellent paying jobs to our local ­communities.”

Container ships would dock at Duke Point and their cargo would be broken into smaller shipments, delivered to Vancouver and elsewhere via barges, Hais said.

Fundamental to the plan is a 50-year lease signed February 24 between the Port of Nanaimo and DP World, a Dubai-based global leader in ­shipping and port logistics. DP will manage the ­terminal.

Along with the company’s investment, the ­federal government is putting in $46.2 million through its national trade corridors fund and the province is contributing $15 million from B.C.’s ­economic recovery fund.

Ian Marr, port authority president and chief executive, said development on the site’s 30 acres will stimulate the economy and create about 1,000 new jobs.

The Port Authority has industrial land for lease for build-to-suit industrial, and surrounding land is already in the hands of major landholders, according to agents who say offers to purchase land for industrial speculation have been rebuffed.

These owners are Harmac Pacific, which owns more than 1,250 acres at Duke Point that it purchased in 2008; and Seacliff Properties which bought 726 acres, known as the Sandstone property, in the area in 2018.

Seacliff is close to completing a master plan for a massive mixed-use residential and commercial development that includes a business park and potential industrial property close to the Duke Point terminal.

Jason Winton, vice-president and managing broker of Colliers International in Nanaimo, said both Harmac and Seacliff have been approached by potential industrial land buyers. He said investors were offering up $650,000 per acre, or about twice the average price of Nanaimo industrial land, but to no avail.

“They are not selling,” Winson said. He estimates that, with the recent announcement, serviced industrial land at Duke Point could be eventually be valued at a $1 million per acre.

The opportunity now is in construction, as build-to-suit warehouses and other industrial property is developed on leased land. It could prove a bonanza for current land owners.

“We see incredible employment and investment opportunities within Nanaimo’s south end,” said Ian Porter, director of real estate with Seacliff, in an e-mail to the Times Colonist.

Jeremy Holm, the City of Nanaimo’s director of development approvals, said the municipal processes underway are for a master plan amendment and rezoning. He said the plans are being reviewed by city departments and have also been referred to various outside agencies and stakeholders.

Improvements include extending the existing berth to 1,049 feet from 597 feet. The terminal’s container yard storage area will be increased to boost capacity to hold 280,000 containers, each 20-feet long. A truck gate, warehouse, an administration and maintenance building are all going in. Drainage, sewer, water and security systems will all be upgraded.

Work is slated to be carried out in the next one to two years, said Mike Davidson, port chief ­operating officer.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said: “This expansion project represents the most significant investment we’ve seen in the Port of Nanaimo in a very, very long time. This puts us front stage centre absolutely in terms of access to Vancouver Island, the delivery of goods and the export of goods, all of those things.”

Maksim Mihic, chief executive and general manager of DP World (Canada) Inc., said the project will put Vancouver Island on “an even playing field with the rest of Canada in terms of trade.”


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