Proponents of a performing-arts centre proposal in Kamloops say they are pleased council directed city staff to review its business case.
Council voted 9-0 on Tuesday in favour of the review, with a report expected back in early November.
“We’re very pleased with the direction that council moved forward today,” Kamloops Centre for the Arts Society chair Norm Daley told supporters and reporters during a press conference immediately after the decision at city hall.
“They’ve asked for an action plan. That’s what we’re looking for today.”
The society has an ambitious timeline, pushing to approve, build and open the centre at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seymour Street within four years.
The society is eyeing a grant application deadline of mid-November and wants shovels in the ground in 2021, with doors to open fall 2023.
Coun. Arjun Singh cautioned against rushing the project, expressing desire for a thorough engagement process in the wake of the failed referendum of 2015. Mayor Ken Christian, however, noted this arts centre proposal is new.
Some key differences include a $20-million price tag reduction, elimination of an attached parkade, a grassroots community effort pushing the project and no tax increase expected — at least to build the facility. (Operating costs could result in a tax hike, though that is currently unknown.)
The business case requests city funding of between $30 million to $45 million, money which could be rolled over from debt payments when the Tournament Capital Centre debt is paid off.
Still, the community would be required to approve the project because it would be paid back in more than five years.
That can be done in two ways.
The first method for consent is the most common way in which the city lends such funds, called counter-petition. Essentially, the city puts residents on notice through advertisements in the paper and otherwise of its intentions to lend money for the project. Residents then have the opportunity to counter-petition, which requires opposition from 10 per cent of the city’s taxpayers within 30 days. If that doesn’t happen, the project is automatically approved.
The other opportunity to gain consent for lending is by sending the the request to referendum. That is what happened in 2015 for a different proposal to borrow $49 million for a $91-million facility. It failed 54 per cent to 46 per cent.
Ron Fawcett, the philanthropist and businessman who has since spearheaded this resurrected push for a new performing-arts centre, said he believes the new project should go to a referendum.
“I’m a taxpayer,” he said. “I think that they went once to the taxpayers — and this is a personal opinion, not the city’s or anything — I don’t think it’s the right thing to do if the city said, ‘OK, you turned it down once, we’re going to do it without going back to you.’ But that’s my personal [opinion], as a taxpayer. I think we have to go back and ask the electorate. If you said no once, do you now approve again? Personally, from the contact I’ve had, I think we’ve had great support.”
Asked of plans to counter potential opposition to the project, Fawcett said he would explain the project more deeply. Selling memberships has given the society a chance to talk to residents about the project one on one, answer questions, quash misinformation and provide regular updates via a newsletter and a website.
The society has sold about 2,000 memberships and will continue to sell them for $2 each in order to continue to grow its base of supporters and to update residents on the project. The goal is to sign up every person in Kamloops.
"We've had a very positive response to our efforts and we're going to continue to do them," Daley said.
For more information, go online to https://kamloopscentreforthearts.ca.
Fawcett called the new proposal a “far superior project.” One complaint he has heard is that the building is too fancy.
“But if you look at that building when we designed it, it’s all square boxes. The only thing that’s fancy is the front,” he said. Asked about the front floor-to-ceiling glazing, he said: “If we square that off, it would save $1.5 million dollars. Other than that, the site has been designed with cost in mind from day one.”
Asked if the location is non-negotiable, Daley said engagement in 2015 determined it to be the “right site,” close to transit, other facilities and an ability to utilize the Telus Annex building next door, purchased and donated by the Fawcetts.
“You can’t build it cheaper anywhere else, I don’t care if the land is free,” Fawcett said.
Arts groups will utilize the Telus Annex space for administration purposes. However, those groups will not be required to contribute financially to the PAC. Kamloops Symphony Orchestra and Western Canada Theatre are listed as partners.
Daley said the society will engage with the groups members during fundraising efforts. Fawcett said the proposed city-controlled board that will oversee operations of the facility would determine operating agreements, but financial contribution to the capital investment will not be required. \
Neither would money from taxpayers in Sun Peaks, Sun Rivers or rural residents — who would undoubtedly benefit from such a facility — be required to contribute financially. To that, Fawcett pointed to user fees.