A Kamloops councillor says any borrowing the city might undertake toward building a performing-arts centre should go to a referendum.
Coun. Arjun Singh noted the public previously voted down borrowing for a PAC.
“I think referendum is the cleanest way because you went to referendum once, people said no,” Singh said.
In 2015, a referendum to borrow $49 million to pay for a $91-million facility at the corner of Seymour Street and Fourth Avenue downtown failed, with 54 per cent of those voting opposed and 46 per cent of those voting in favour. Voter turnout was 32 per cent.
Municipalities are required to seek public approval for liabilities spanning more than five years. That approval can come via referendum or an alternative approval process known as counter petition. The latter means the city moves forward, but residents have the opportunity to quash the borrowing plan with a petition signed by at least 10 per cent of the electorate within 30 days.
If that is accomplished, the city can kill the proposal or send it to a referendum.
In 2011, one of the few counter petitions to succeed involved a plan by the city to borrow $8 million to build a parkade in the Lorne Street parking lot at Riverside Park. Opponents needed 6,500 signatures to force the city to kill the plan or go to referendum. They ended up collecting 9,400 signatures in a five-week period and council quashed the proposal.
“I think you have to figure out how the best way is to win a referendum, would be kind of the thought process,” Singh said. “Not to win it in a way which is underhanded, but to really engage people who had concerns before. What do we hear as the top concerns people had about not doing it in the community, right? I don’t think people in this town don’t support the arts. I think people in this town have other concerns that have to be engaged with and talked about. What are those? And go from there.”
Singh said he is keeping his eye on public discourse related to the new PAC proposal. Calling himself a “supporter,” Singh said economics are key and the project should have minimal impact on taxpayers, including operating costs.
“Even if you can get it built through basically capital-grant funding, that doesn’t really involve a lot of city taxation money, I’d be concerned how much taxation money goes to the operating of that,” he said.
Singh said revenue opportunities should be explored carefully. For example, he said multicultural groups have approached councillors, seeking space for events. Tourism Kamloops is also pushing for conference space.
“Is there space for other groups so it becomes a civic centre?” Singh said, noting it could bring in funds to offset operating costs.
Kamloops businessman and philanthropist Ron Fawcett made a pitch to council earlier this year for a $70-million, 103,000-square-foot arts centre in the same location previously proposed, the former Kamloops Daily News property, which is currently a city parking lot. The proposal includes plans for 1,200-, 450- and 75-seat theatres, as well as a cafe, outdoor cafe area, rehearsal halls and meeting spaces. Absent from the pitch was a controversial parkade included in the previous proposal.
Council has yet to announce public direction on a PAC, though it is expected it will at least seek a business case. Fawcett donated the plans and has pledged to donate the Telus annex building next door, which he purchased for use with the PAC, with a total financial donation of between $8 million and $10 million.