By KATHY SINCLAIR
Kamloops Arts Council
I FELT MILDLY stunned and disappointed with news the former Kamloops Daily News (KDN) building would become a parking lot. And I wasn’t the only one.
It’s not that the demolition or parking lot idea was a surprise; based on the majority of reports I’ve seen, it’s time to bid farewell to the KDN building. But after a year of waiting for results from the request for information the City issued last March, I hoped for a more optimistic outcome.
Nine proposals were received and reportedly only one was seriously considered — which apparently fell through in the 11th hour. Just a few weeks ago, there was a feeling in the air our city could be on the brink of something big. I was hoping that something would have to do with the arts — perhaps a public-private partnership.
Alas, no, despite Deputy Mayor Arjun Singh assuring us the parking lot is a temporary measure, which is conceivable since it will be a surface lot, not an above-ground parkade.
So, what proposals were received for the site? We don’t know.
The only proponent who has come forward is the Downtown Neighbourhood Association, which pitched saving the building and retrofitting it into a modified performing arts centre (PAC). That PAC would have been significantly different from the one initially proposed for the site.
But perhaps we should go back a bit.
After the paper shut down in early 2014, the City purchased the 60,000-square-foot site. It was announced it could be the future home of a new Kamloops PAC.
If a PAC is going to happen at the KDN site — or anywhere — perhaps it’s time for the arts community, the business community and citizens to come together and plan a way forward
Over the next year, a city-led proposal came together, a visionary and ambitious project that included a main theatre with 1,200 seats, a studio theatre with 350 and an underground parkade with 349 stalls. I believe it would have met not only our city’s current needs, but served us well for years to come.
(Full disclosure: I was one of the project’s champions, both personally and as a representative of my organization.)
Was it a perfect proposal? No. Many details still had to be filled in, but the 200-plus-page preliminary business case (still available online at kamloops.ca/arts/pdfs/PAC-BusinessCase.pdf) was put together after extensive research and consultation.
Were the consultants brought in to work on the project skilled, experienced and knowledgeable? Yes — without a doubt.
As you’ll recall, the PAC went to referendum in November 2015 — three short weeks after the federal election. The vote was defeated, with 46.26 per cent voting yes and 53.7 per cent voting no. (Voter turnout was just 32 per cent.) A large percentage of yes votes came from South Shore residents.
Would the referendum have passed if the PAC had been proposed for another area of town? Was Kamloops just not ready for a PAC?
Leading up to the referendum, one of the questions I kept hearing was, “Why do we need a performing arts centre when we already have Sagebrush Theatre?”
The Sagebrush is wonderful and we’re fortunate to have it, but it’s filled to capacity. That doesn’t mean every seat in the theatre is filled at every performance — just that, between local user groups and the occasional touring acts performances and rehearsals, it’s booked for 88 per cent of prime dates. It also means when touring performers look to play Kamloops en route to/from Vancouver, Kelowna or Calgary, Kamloops is simply not an option.
Western Canada Theatre hosts most of its productions there, as does the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra. It is also used for school shows. Sagebrush needs upgrades and it’s certainly not within easy walking distance of a pre-show dinner or post-performance beverage — a desirable amenity with economic spin-offs.
Other venue options for acts coming through town? Sandman Centre, which seats 3,500. It works for sports events and large stadium-style rock concerts, but not for a Diana Krall or a Sara Bareilles. It is well known the acoustics are terrible.
The Coast Kamloops Hotel and Conference Centre’s dinner theatre can hold up to 475 people. Then there are several other smaller venues, including churches, The Pavilion, The Rex, St. Andrews on the Square and bars like CJ’s Night Club and the Blue Grotto, where the amount of liquor sold factors into the booking equation. Given the current options, acts like Bareilles, Krall and dance companies simply pass us by.
We have a lot of local talent in this city. The artists of tomorrow — those who will follow in the footsteps of rising stars like Kate Morgan and Bees and the Bare Bones — need opportunities to see live local acts. As do the rest of us.
The Kamloops Arts Council just launched an online survey. One of the questions: “What would improve the arts scene in Kamloops?” Among eight possible multiple-choice responses, so far the top is “a performing-arts centre.”
Kamloops is not too small for a PAC; Revelstoke, with a population of 7,000, has one as does Vernon, which has a population of 40,000.
A PAC is not an elitist venue. Chances are once we get one, everyone will use it at some point — whether for attending a country music show, a high school graduation, a kids’ performance or the symphony.
As for the “we need to solve the homeless problem before we invest in the arts” argument? Why can’t we do both? The arts are a major employer. According to Stats Canada, in 2014, there were 87,800 B.C. jobs directly related to culture industries. That’s nearly four per cent of the provincial workforce.
If this surface parking lot is indeed to be a temporary measure, perhaps it’s time to mobilize. If a PAC is going to happen in that spot — or anywhere — perhaps it’s time for the arts community, the business community and citizens to come together and plan a way forward.
We had a $5-million pledge on the initial proposed PAC. Other funding is out there and, with the support of a private developer, a PAC could be a reality. Are we ready now, Kamloops?
Kathy Sinclair is the executive director of the Kamloops Arts Council, kamloopsarts.ca.