Kamloops council on Tuesday heard from a new society that has formed to promote the Kamloops Centre for the Arts, a $70-million idea for the downtown core.
The group of volunteers represents a cross-section of the community, from tourism to arts and industry. It includes: Tyson Andrykew (Sandman Signature Kamloops Hotel), Brenda Aynsley (United Way), Barbara Berger (City of Kamloops), Dennis Clare (Domtar), Fiona Chan (Business Development Bank of Canada), Margaret Chrumka (Kamloops Art Gallery), Alisa Coquet (RIH Foundation), Paul Dagg (Interior Health), Kathy Humphreys (Kamloops Symphony Orchestra), James MacDonald (Western Canada Theatre), Marilyn McLean and Daniela O’Fee (music educators).
Similarly to when philanthropist and businessman Ron Fawcett appeared before council in January to share his vision for resurrecting plans for a performing-arts centre, council chambers were packed on Tuesday as elected representatives heard from the group for the first time.
Ron Fawcett told council he and wife Rae continue to be dedicated to supporting this project, with hopes of the arts centre opening in the fall of 2023 if all goes well. His 80th birthday is coming up, he joked, and he’d like to be at the centre’s opening.
“That’s if everything goes well,” he said.
He stressed the project is a personal one, not business related, and underlined the need in light of recent Sagebrush Theatre problems, which has left the facility shuttered due to roof truss problems and arts groups who rely on the building scrambling for performance space in churches and other buildings. Fawcett said if approved this fall, further design work could take another 18 months, followed by construction.
Aynsley, longtime executive director for the United Way Thompson Nicola Cariboo who took a leadership opportunity in Vancouver, said as a resident of Kamloops for nearly four decades, the community needs a PAC. She attended the Fawcett’s pitch in January and said there was a buzz in the community.
“I sense that Kamloops is on the cusp of so many great things,” Aynsley said.
The society will work with arts groups and the community to advance the project, with six tasks identified: developing a new business case, communications strategy, enlisting community support through a membership drive, provide input into design of the project and fundraising.
“We have our work cut out for all of us, but this is exciting work and we have a great team in place to get going,” Aynsley told council.
Asked if taxpayers will be off the hook financially, she could not say.
“We just know that for a project this size, there always be a need to fundraise,” Aynsley said. “That’s one of the things I do bring, is fundraising experience. We know that communities and organizations in this town, they work together. They’re not in competition.”
She noted this project is different than the proposal defeated by voters in a 2015 referendum. Coun. Arjun Singh said he was happy to see parking left out of the current proposal.
Kathy Humphreys, KSO executive director of nearly 30 years, will retire at the end of the month and said the volunteer society will be meeting at least once per week.
She highlighted the importance of the project in light of KSO’s difficulty accommodating audiences of 700 during the Sagebrush Theatre closure. Humphreys called the Fawcett donation “generous” and said it’s the right project and time.
The proposed arts centre would rise on the city-owned parking lot, downtown at Seymour Street and Fourth Avenue. As part of his pitch, Fawcett has purchased an adjacent property — worth between $8 million and $10 million — for use as offices and storage space for the arts centre.
Anecdotally, Humphreys said, a large number of people have been coming to her in the community since January to ask how to get involved and help.
“I think Kamloops has grown to a point now where it’s at a critical population mass that you need to make a facility like this viable,” she said.
Coun. Kathy Sinclair was involved in the previous PAC campaign and called work done to this point “amazing.”
“I am jumping out of my skin with excitement,” she said.
Singh, however, stressed the importance of looking to reduce public subsidy. Mayor Ken Christian said he has received feedback from the community, running about two-to-one in favour of the idea so far. He encouraged the group to get moving on memberships, so that the community may buy into the idea.
“I hope that we have a facility fitting to celebrate Ron Fawcett’s 85th birthday,” he said.
No timeline could be given on the business case.