Nelson city council voted down a Civic Theatre funding proposal 4-3 last night before passing a new motion that will have the city and theatre society both writing new last-minute grant proposals over the weekend.
UPDATE: The following paragraph was updated on June 14. Previously, some of the dollar amounts were incorrect.
The rejected plan, advocated by the society at a council meeting on June 1 and recommended to council by city management staff last night, would have seen city council apply to the Canada 150 Fund for $500,000, and to the Columbia Basin Trust for a matching grant of $250,000. Added to this would be the use of city funds (from reserves or borrowed) amounting to $850,000. This would all add up to $1.6 million toward Phase one of a two-phase renovation of the Civic Theatre. The theatre society would raise an additional $1.3 million toward Phase 1.
Under the proposed plan the city would have funded (through the grants and its own funds) the construction of a galleria/concourse on the front of the building, along with technical and mechanical upgrades.
The theatre society, meanwhile, would have constructed a second theatre space and a link to the concourse. (The theatre society’s intention since it took over the theatre has been to add two more screens because it says in the current entertainment environment a single-screen theatre is not viable in the long run.)
“We are disappointed,” said theatre society chair Marilyn Mint after the council vote. “We can understand the councillors’ positions. They were concerned they did not have the background, that it was too rushed, and they did not have enough time to think about this to make an informed decision.”
What is Canada 150?
The Canada 150 Fund is a federal government infrastructure program designed to celebrate Canada’s 150the birthday in 2017. The Columbia Basin Trust has said it will match some successful Canada 150 applications by 50 per cent. The deadline for Canada 150 applications is June 17, which explains the hurried meetings of June 1 and last night.
Also under the plan that was presented to council last night, the cost of the project would also be topped up by $850,000 from the city to be obtained from reserves or from borrowing.
Councillors Valerie Warmington, Janice Morrison, Robin Cherbo, and Bob Adams spoke and voted against the plan, while councillors Anna Purcell and Michael Dailly along with Mayor Deb Kozak were in favour of it.
The contentious “galleria/concourse”
One of the divisive issues was the “galleria/concourse” proposed to be built on the front of the building. It would connect, and provide access between, the three theatres, the street, and the conference centre area.
Architect Greame Leadbeater, a volunteer for the theatre society, told council that without the concourse being built first, the society would have to build separate fire exits from each theatre and from the conference centre, and he said that would be a waste of money.
“The intent was to create a central lower level on Vernon with an elevator and new stairs that would bring people up so they could move across all these venues including the (conference centre) and all the theatre spaces,” he said.
Priorities and design questioned
But councillors Warmington, Morrison, Cherbo, and Adams didn’t agree that the concourse was a priority.
They wondered why the proposal included new construction when there was so much old construction, in this building and others owned by the city, that needs upgrading.
“The Civic Centre in its entirely needs significant upgrades one of which is a new roof not even contemplated in the proposal,” said Morrison. “I am not prepared to make million dollar decisions based on one presentation on ten days notice.”
Cherbo was critical of the design of the concourse (see artist rendering at left) which he said did not fit a heritage theme. (Leadbeater later told the meeting that the drawing in question is a rough sketch to show the size and shape of the concourse, and is not an actual design.)
Warmington was very sceptical of the entire proposal. She invoked the recent consultant’s report that said Nelson could not support a conference centre, and she said the concourse is unnecessary.
“I am concerned that we are adding to an inventory of unused space and potentially adding to our operations costs,” she said. “It is happening too fast and there are too many questions. I would support a smaller project that focuses on the theatre itself and gets the fire proofing and the roof and the other upgrades that are essential done.”
In favour: Dailly, Purcell, Kozak
Dailly said the concourse makes sense, pointing out that its purpose is to connect all the other components of the building and that it would be cheaper than making individual exits inside the existing building.
“As a (retired) firefighter I understand the important of emergency access,” he said, “It makes sense to me that you would start there (by building the concourse first).”
Dailly said he didn’t want to let this funding opportunity slip by.
“I do have some questions about the design and what the next steps are,” he said, “but what I don’t want to do is lose the opportunity to get this money. I am going to trust there are enough people who have looked at this and build on the success they have had.”
Councillor Purcell also didn’t want to lose the opportunity for the funding.
“This seems like a great opportunity to get this started,” she said. “We have this opportunity to build an exceptional space here in Nelson.”
Mayor Deb Kozak waited for all councillors to express their opinions, and then put forward her own position before calling for the vote.
She said Nelson needs a large public space that would function as a community hall.
“I am looking at the rejuvenation of this building as a whole,” she said, “and looking to moving forward not just on this space but on all of that building.”
Regarding the concourse, Kozak said at first she thought of it as “the icing before the cake is baked, but when I heard the rationale about why it was needed and about how the connectivity would actually be less costly in the long run and making the space more (wheelchair) accessible, I came out in favour of the application.”
A second motion fails
After council voted the motion down, Adams immediately made a new motion that the city apply to Canada 150 to build two theatres and a new roof.
Civic Theatre Society board chair Marilyn Mint, who was at the meeting, told council this would not work within the short application deadline because it was too radically different from what the society had proposed. She said the civic theatre has always intended to build the theatres itself, and did not expect the city to contribute to the operations of the theatre society. The motion was defeated.
And a third passes: new ideas, new priorities
Then a third motion was proposed by Morrison, that council submit an application to the Canada 150 fund for $280,000 to complete two infrastructure projects: replacing the roof on the Civic Arena and constructing a new entranceway in the Civic Arena. These two jobs are named in the city’s current capital plan for infrastructure improvements.
The motion passed with only Adams opposed.
This application would be completely independent of the theatre society.
Asked what the theatre society intends to do now, Mint told the Star today that their board will discuss this over the weekend and come to council asking for support for an amended Canada 150 proposal at Monday night’s council meeting. She said she expects that the society will ask for money to complete the second and third theatre.
The city’s and the society’s applications will compete with each other, as they will with two other Canada 150 applications for which the city has expressed its (non-financial) support, by the Nelson Cares Society and the Glacier Gymnastics Club.