“No” vote a lost opportunity for the city

Voters have rejected borrowing $49 million for a new Performing Arts Centre

graph1Kamloops residents went to the polls on Saturday, Nov. 7, last week to vote on whether or not to borrow $49 million to construct a new $90-million Performing Arts Centre. Some wires were crossed along the way, however, and it appears that the referendum became about a variety of other things.

It’s a hefty sum, $49 million. The associated per-person number being thrown around is $38 per year more in taxes. Many were willing to pay it. Many weren’t, however, and some instead called for increased spending on a variety of other things like road improvements or sparkly new sewers.

What’s not clear to these voters is that this wasn’t a referendum on how to spend millions of dollars – it was a referendum on whether or not we should have a Performing Arts Centre. If there were voters that felt as though they were being asked how the city should blow $90 million, they were mistaken, and I think the city would be able to figure out how to spend that money on its own.

The need for a new centre was debated throughout the run-up to the referendum. The city’s feasibility study locked in a proposed capacity and set out the business plan. It would build a 1,200-seat main theatre, 350-seat black box theatre and a much-needed parkade along with all of it. This is the kind of thing the arts community has been after for years.

But it wouldn’t be so. The “Yes” vote lost with 46.23 per cent of the vote. Although voter turnout was only 31.9 per cent, the geographic breakdown of the polls still proves interesting. Overwhelmingly, rural and North Shore polling locations voted to reject the proposed borrowing. Polling locations in Westsyde, Barnhartvale, Rayleigh and Dallas all said “no” – some with as much as 68 per cent not in favour.

There are likely a number of explanations to look at why this divide is present. Was it based on proximity? The further away you get from Kamloops, the less likely you are to go into town to attend an event? Maybe it’s socioeconomic? Maybe it’s political, and the more austere among us primarily live out of town.

There was also a cluster of North Shore locations that all said “no,” too. The NorKam, Arthur Hatton, Westmount and Parkcrest polling locations all voted between 59 and 67 per cent against. I would say that this block of polling locations, despite being close to the downtown core, voted against the centre because of a longstanding divide between the North Shore and the rest of the city. The lack of North Shore development is clear, and worse, vacancies and rundown storefronts and houses are abundant. The North Shore situation is apparent to anyone who’s been there, and despite the efforts of revitalization groups and those who are brave enough to build, invest and operate over there, there’s a certain peak to reach that the city has yet to even come close to. While downtown Kamloops decides whether or not to build a beautiful new arts venue, the North Shore deals with a rash of pop-up fireworks shops and payday loan outfits.

While I understand those who agonize over the disparity (and I do a little myself), Kamloops is not so big that a new venue would not have benefited everyone – whether they attended or not. Bigger acts traveling through town would literally put us on the map, and that’s the kind of attention that helps a city grow.

Now, we’re left with the Kamloops Daily News lot and to figure out what to do with it. As Kamloops Mayor Peter Milobar told other media in town, just dealing with the lot alone is something that might take some borrowing to do – I’m not sure that’s what people had in mind when they recommended road improvements instead of a performing arts centre. Maybe they’ll change their mind when someone puts up a fireworks shop or payday loan store in the old newsroom.