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ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – The day the waterfront centre was rejected

Today, we revisit the 1987 referendum on the proposed $50-million Waterfront Centre that would have included a convention centre, sports coliseum, museum and performing arts centre. The Kamloops share of the project would have been $10 million, with the other $40 million contributed by other levels of government. It was defeated, with 50.6 per cent against, the infamous North-South voting split. This column was published in The Kamloops News on the day of the vote, Oct. 24, 1987. A few years later, the stand-alone Riverside Coliseum (now Sandman Centre) was approved at a cost of $23 million.

THE SLOGAN for proponents of the waterfront centre, which is before Kamloops voters today for a decision is Share the Vision.

Some people would rather not share anything, thank you. They are convinced the city doesn’t need the waterfront centre, that it will make paupers of us all.

Their vision of the perfect Kamloops would be a city with every possible amenity and no taxation. Who among us, in fact, wouldn’t like that? But we live in a real world, and in the real world there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

The Share the Vision slogan, dreamed up during a brain-storming session upstairs in the city’s engineering department a few months ago, is highly appropriate. At that meeting, the basic strategy was worked out for “selling” the waterfront centre.

One conclusion was that the economic benefits of the centre must be made abundantly clear to a public that was bound to be cost-conscious. Another was that unless people felt pride in their city, wanted to be able to show it off when Aunt Doris from Saskatoon comes for a visit, they wouldn’t be willing to dig into their pockets.

I’m not sure how good a job the Waterfront Committee has done in getting the essential information to the public. They’ve certainly tried. The scale model has been all over town, gathering interested crowds wherever it’s been set up. There have been meetings, advertisements, public announcements.

Yet the same questions keep coming up time after time. Some things won’t be known until all the various parts of the funding are in place, but most of the concerns have been answered time after time.

The waterfront committee has known from the beginning that getting majority public support for the project would not be apple pie and ice cream. They knew that Kamloops taxpayers, ever wary of plans to spend their money, would ask tough questions. They knew they would have to be ready with the answers.

I believe, though, that some opponents of the waterfront centre have purposely tried to make it appear that there are many unanswered questions about the project. If a question has been answered, ask it again anyway, maybe an undecided voter hasn’t heard the answer yet and will figure the whole idea is too iffy.

Among the most-asked questions is the “bottom line” question. This one suggests that the true story about costs is kept locked away in the basement of city hall for fear it would scare people off. That’s not so; the money issue has been looked at from every possible angle.

Others deal with the aforementioned flood level, as well as trees, traffic congestion, rail vibrations and the impact on Riverside Park.

These, too, have been answered. Construction will guard against flooding, some trees will be removed, traffic and parking have been carefully planned, rail vibrations won’t interfere, and a very small amount of the park will be taken up by the centre.

Depending on your priorities, you may not like any one of the answers, but the answers have been offered.

If trees are your priority, you’ll vote “no” today, but I consider myself an environmentalist and I think the trade is worth it.

If you see conspiracies to profit lurking behind every progressive idea for the city, you’ll vote “no,” too. There’s been much said about the centre supposedly being little more than a sleazy scheme to make money for private entrepreneurs.

There is, indeed, a considerable amount of private investment involved in the plan. If it wasn’t, the centre would cost taxpayers much more. More, in fact, than we could afford. The wasterfront project is a civic project that will be helped out by private money, not the other way around.

The same people who suggest something distasteful about private-enterprise involvement in the centre would likely be the first to complain if private enterprise refused financial involvement. Then it would be a case of the crummy business community failing to invest in the community in which it has prospered.

As it is, detractors complain on one hand about private investment, and worry about the hotel not panning out on the other.

I believe most people want the waterfront centre. What each of them must decide is whether or not he or she an or wants to pay the price. Nobody can fault another for not being able to afford, or simply not wanting to pay for, the water front centre.

Unfortunately, quite a few crepe hangers have attempted to belittle other, unrelated aspects of the plan based on their fear of taxes. That, to me, is dishonest.

How can we sit around like couch potatoes crying the blues about Kamloops not having anything going for it, and then loudly shoot down any idea that will give us something to be proud of?

If our city is lacking in spirit or amenities, it’s our fault, not that of the guy across the street or in city hall. If we’re going to building something good here, we can’t do it by eternally complaining, by looking for everything that is wrong and ignoring what is right, or what is possible.

In other words, it takes vision. The investment we make in the waterfront centre is going to come back to us manyfold in a hundred different ways that are good for our community, our citizens, and our families.

That’s why I’m voting “yes” today.

P.S. You wanna prediction? OK. 58.4 per cent in favour.)

mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

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About Mel Rothenburger (5769 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – The day the waterfront centre was rejected

  1. If Kamloops always said no to everything why would we have a coliseum, a vibrant market, a fine, smaller university, a terrific library, a wonderful riverfront park, music in the park, busy downtown a vibrant arts community and so much else. The naysayers rightly ruled the day on a few huge projects, but in my view, other factors were at work. Too often, public participation seems a token exercise. The boosters and drum beaters need to listen more. As one former mayor memorably said – “there is no plan B.” We might have had a performing arts centre today, if the site had been on the North shore, and if they had been willing to scale it back some. Plenty of taxpayers were saying, “yes, we need it and we like it, but it’s just too expensive?” Blaming the naysayers is a tiresome excuse. We need to look seriously at how we plan and promote ideas. Yes, Kamloops is a sprawling, diverse city. Maybe we do need a second downtown centre on the North shore so those folks get something more than a dusty, little used Spirit Square.

  2. A great article, to be sure. Painful that, all these years later, Kamloops remains a “No thank you” city, turning down most proposals with none of the fair consideration shown in this article.

  3. My, we are a City of “no’s aren’t we

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