Nelson business owner Ed Olthof speaks out against the way the City has approached the Civic Theatre request for proposal.

Nelson business owner ‘appalled’ by Civic Theatre process

A Nelson contractor spoke out against how city council has addressed the request for proposal process for the Civic Theatre.

While the Nelson Civic Theatre Society has received over 4,000 signatures in support of their plan to revitalize the theatre, one Nelson resident is “appalled” with the city’s process.

“I’m disappointed that the city can be so easily swayed by what I perceive to be a special interest group and how some councillors have a predisposition to be swayed by that particular group,” said Ed Olthof, a small business owner in Nelson.

Olthof addressed city council last week at their monthly committee of the whole meeting.

The Nelson Civic Theatre Society was recently given an extension for their proposal so that they could conduct a feasibility study and complete their business plan.

While Olthof voiced strong opinions about the viability of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society’s proposal he said he didn’t care in the end which group took on the project.

“I don’t care if the squash club and the climbing gym goes in and I don’t care if the theatre goes in, it’s just the process that I found to be appauling,” he said.

Olthof said he was concerned about how the community – particularly those interested in being involved in the request for proposal process – would perceive the City.

“How can public enterprise or any citizen that wants to participate with the request for proposal from the City of Nelson have any confidence in that when the city says when they set a deadline and ground rules for a proposal and if they do not have a proponent for the proposal by which they agree, they will just merely extend the proposal until someone comes a long to whom they agree with,” said Olthof who works as a general contractor in Nelson. “To me that is not the process that I want to be a part of. I don’t think that is a democratic way of doing things.”

The original deadline for the request for proposal was set for April 17 but was extended to May 31.

The City also received a proposal from the Downtown Athletic Club, who would convert the theatre space to accommodate squash courts, a climbing facility and the possibility for other sports facilities like a basketball court.

Olthof questioned the viability of the Theatre Society’s proposal when they seem to be relying on “tax dollars.”

“If it’s not municipal dollars, if it’s federal dollars or provincial dollars,” said Olthof who was a member of the squash club 10 years ago.  “If you look at the proposal by the Society… if you look at their methods of funding they have no money. They are looking to do it on a volunteer basis, with money from the Columbia Basin Trust, the feds, the provincial government and the municipality; that’s all tax dollars. How does that make it viable? It just doesn’t, and how can city council just sit back there and say ‘we’re going to pick the winners and losers.’ It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

According to the proposal from the Theatre Society, the costs for the start-up of the facility would have an approximate total of $430,075.

The Society anticipates that society memberships, seating and other sponsorship drives, community donations, the Columbia Basin Trust, Regional District grants, Osprey Foundation and BC Gaming grants will be among some of the sources of revenue to address the start-up costs.

“I read the proposal from the theatre group, and I have read the proposal from the Athletic Club and it just seems to be a lot of hope and a prayer from the one side. The liberal romantics would just love to have that and take their kids to the theatre and the other side doesn’t cost the city a penny,” said Olthof.

The Star wrote in March, the Athletic Club projected their budget at at $350,000 to $400,000 and stressed that they would be not asking the city for any direct funding.

“We’re not looking for them to spend any money to make this project happen,” said Pat Hodgson with the Downtown Athletic Club in March.

“There may be some costs incurred by the city to bring the building up to code, but they haven’t been identified, and we haven’t gotten that far into the process yet.”

Like the Theatre Society, the Athletic Club said they expected to pay for the project through grants, fundraising and member fees.

In addition to concerns about funding, Olthof doesn’t think that there are enough moviegoers in Nelson to sustain a theatre.

“People can’t sustain a movie theatre in this town,” he said. “I think that theatre was currently designed to seat 700; obviously it would never seat 700. I heard 289 or 300 seats as a projected theatre size. Well honest to goodness, I don’t think we could sustain a theatre, maybe they can prove me. I get my movies from NetFlix or AppleTV, and I don’t see that going away.”

The Nelson Civic Theatre Society has until October 15 to conduct feasibility study, further business planning, raise initial funds and consult with the broader community.

City council will then review their proposal and the word described.

— With files from Greg Nesteroff


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