The Kamloops Voters Society sponsored an open forum discussion about the proposed performing arts centre that would be built on the old Kamloops Daily News property downtown.
The forum was part of the Culture Days series of events taking place from Sept. 25 to 27.
In attendance were Mayor Peter Milobar and the consultant for the project, Tomer Curiel. Former city councilor and TRU instructor John O’Fee served as moderator.
The 40 other attendees were mostly from the arts community. Frank Dwyer, self-described “not an insider [of the arts community]” and former mayoral candidate Pierre Filisetti were the only vocal opponents to the project.
The performing arts centre would have a 1,200-seat main theatre, a 350-seat black box theatre and 350 parking spaces. Construction would run from 2018 to 2020 and the project’s estimated cost is $91 million, with the city needing to borrow approximately $49 million of that total cost.
“Worst case scenario, taxes would be raised one per cent in 2016, and another one per cent in 2017,” Milobar said.
Dwyer summed up his argument against the project as “too much, too late and in the wrong place.” Dwyer suggested it would be better placed at the university campus and worried about the theatre’s long-term relevance. He also worried that the current design would negatively affect the downtown core’s ambience.
Derek Cook, President of the Kamloops Voters Society and political science professor at TRU, asked Milobar how long it would take to come up with another proposal should this one be voted down. “Politically speaking, I would say it would be at least 10 years,” Milobar said.
Much of the discussion was devoted to comparing Kamloops to other B.C. cities of similar size, with many saying that the performing arts centre would bring Kamloops up to par with the surrounding area.
Those in favour also argued that the Sagebrush Theatre is difficult to book even for Western Canada Theatre classes, and that the acoustics, though ideal for theatre, are not adequate for musical performances. The centre could also be used for more diverse events like speakers and convocations, said Kathy Humphries, general manager of the Kamloops Symphony.
While many attendees expressed concern over engaging young people in the arts, the youngest people attending the forum were the reporters covering it.
Both for and against sides agreed that the details of the project needed to be better understood by the public and Dwyer expressed concern that the only voices heard so far were people who would benefit professionally from the centre.
The information about the project as it was presented to the city council can be found at kamloops.ca. The referendum on the proposal will be held on Nov. 7.