Kamloops city council voted on Tuesday to send the new performing-arts centre proposal to its strategic planning sessions later this week.
During those meetings, which will be held on Thursday and Friday, council will decide its priorities for its four-year term. The meetings are not open to the public.
However, KTW reached out to councillors to gauge their thoughts on the presentation made by Ron Fawcett on Tuesday, when he proposed a publicly funded $70-million performing-arts centre for downtown Kamloops, in addition to between $8 million and $10 million he would donate via his purchase of the Telus annex building on St. Paul Street to provide space for Western Canada Theatre and Kamloops Symphony Orchestra. The building would be adjacent to the city-owned parking lot at Seymour Street and Fourth Avenue, the site of the proposed arts centre (and former home to the Kamloops Daily News).
KTW asked councillors for their thoughts on the proposal and whether user groups that utilize the facility should financially contribute to the building. Here’s what they had to say:
• Mayor Ken Christian called the presentation “excellent” and said the proposal ticked two important boxes: unanimous support from the arts community and $20 million shaved from the 2015 proposal that was rejected by voters in a referendum. He said the proposal is more palatable due to the Telus annex building donation from Fawcett and without a parkade attached.
“That said, there will be people who do not like change,” Christian said. “Those people will be writing letters and doing what they do. I think, in terms of increasing livability in Kamloops, increasing the offerings in terms of the arts and increasing the space in places to develop the arts in Kamloops — this is a winner.”
Christian said an element of the performing-arts centre will need to be publicly funded. He said it is no different than the city-run Sandman Centre, which is utilized by the Kamloops Blazers, or Memorial Arena, utilized by the Kamloops Storm.
• Coun. Dale Bass said she was thrilled with the proposal, noting the subject will create a “formidable discussion point” during strategic planning, being that many councillors expressed a need for a performing arts centre during last year’s election campaign.
“I think many of us also said maybe not now,” Bass said.
Calling herself a strong supporter of local arts and culture, Bass said she understands economic spinoff and value of a performing-arts centre. Her sticking points are the price tag and location.
“I understand why Ron wants it downtown, but we keep forgetting the North Shore,” Bass said.
She said arts groups are largely dependent on donations, so she doesn’t know where they would find money for the PAC. Bass said significant cash could come from naming not only the centre, but also each of the three theatres included in the facility.
• Coun. Dieter Dudy listed the PAC among top priorities heading into strategic planning, behind economic development, homelessness and the opioid crisis.
“It’s one of those things that helps to complete a community,” he said. “We’ve got sports pretty much covered, recreation pretty much covered.”
Dudy stressed, however, the financial burden should not be shouldered by the community. He said city partners, such as the Thompson-Nicola Regional District and Thompson Rivers University, should contribute. He also suggested user groups that will use the facility should be raising funds.
“These people who would use these facilities should put their money where their mouth is,” Dudy said.
• Coun. Sadie Hunter said she was impressed by community support for the proposal, noting “big leaders” filled council chambers on Tuesday and overflowed into city hall’s executive room, where people watched a live broadcast of the meeting. Mayor Ken Christian also noted during the meeting an “unprecedented” turnout.
“I was really happy to see the community come forward with something that they had put time and energy into,” Hunter said.
She called the presentation a “first look” and noted council will need to look at a business case before making any decisions.
• Coun. Mike O’Reilly praised the private vision and noted the Fawcett family “doubled down” on their previous commitment. In 2015, the Fawcetts had pledged to donate $5 million toward the arts centre if voters approved it. O’Reilly did, however, express concern about downtown parking on nights when Sandman Centre is hosting an event. He said the city needs to have a parking strategy or parking master plan for downtown. If a parkade came before council today, he said, he doesn’t know if he could support it without data.
“That has been missing for more than a decade,” O’Reilly said.
• Coun. Arjun Singh offered a “heartfelt thanks” to the Fawcett family, but noted the key will be to make it cost-effective as the city looks at a number of pricey items on a list of priorities.
“As we’re moving forward into the term, I’m starting to realize there’s a lot of dollar signs attached to various things that we’re looking at,” he said.
• Coun. Bill Sarai said he wants to see more of a business plan and noted donations in the $8- to $10-million range are unusual.
“That’s quite extraordinary,” he said.
He is unsure where it should fall yet among priorities during the upcoming strategic planning session.
“It’s a benefit to the city. It definitely is, but is it at the top of the list? I’m not sure yet,” he said.
• Coun. Denis Walsh complimented Fawcett for his dedication, generosity and leadership. Calling the proposal “impressive”, Walsh said it is better than the proposal presented in 2015 because it created separate venues for orchestra and theatre performances.
“I think they’ve done a remarkable job in addressing some of what was lacking,” Walsh said.
He said a performing-arts society could consist of different city groups and contribute to the centre’s viability. The city could go after grants and provide land.
“If it was properly managed, it can at least pay for itself,” Walsh said.
• Coun. Kathy Sinclair said she was “blown away” by the level of detail and work by the Fawcetts.