Dozens of people attended an information session last night hosted by the city to discuss the upcoming referendum on borrowing money for the Kamloops Centre for the Arts project.
The session, at the McArthur Island Sport and Event Centre, gave locals a chance to come out and ask questions of the city and proponents for the project.
"The question is 'Do you support borrowing $45 million to go and build a facility that we can show we don't have and would be used if we did build one?'" says community services director Byron McCorkell.
The event drew around 50 people seeking information, with a range of opinions from supporters to the undecided to opponents.
"I already knew I was going to say yes, but my partner here didn't know if he was going to say yes and I thought we needed more information," says Pat MacQueen. "I felt they did very well."
MacQueen notes that she voted no in the last referendum, but feels the finances make more sense this time.
"I was on the fence on a couple of items and things were explained which sort of changed my mind," says Andy Cassar-Torreggiani, MacQueen's 'partner.' "I still am a little bit concerned about the parking."
Parking was one of two major concerns people brought up, according to city staff who spoke to attendees.
"Parking is never going to go away it would appear," McCorkell says. "Is there ever enough parking and is it ever in the right spot?"
During his time at the podium, he encouraged people to view the performing arts centre and parking downtown as separate issues, and noted that the city is currently working on a parking management plan, which is likely going to be in front of council in September.
At the same time, he pointed to a recent study the city did which showed there are 3,500 stalls in the city's core, and the theatre complex, if all three theatres were in use, has 1,700 seats.
"We do have a parking problem downtown and the parking problem is related to people who work downtown and people who want to have commerce downtown," McCorkell says.
A city-wide conversation on another parkade in the core is likely, he adds, but that's not what the arts centre conversation should hinge on.
Tom Patterson attended the session, and still isn't sure how he'll vote; for him parking is still an issue, despite the city's numbers.
"They say they have sufficient parking; well, I was at the Sound of Music at the Sagebrush and I came through the city afterwards and I didn't see a lot of parking available downtown," he says. "Maybe on the sidestreets, the residential areas, but if I lived on one of those residential streets and they were forever parked on I would complain."
The other issue attendees focused on was the cost and taxes of borrowing up to $45 million for the project.
However, the city's corporate director Kathy Humphrey explained to the crowd that the city will be taking on debt to pay for it, starting in 2024. That means the new debt wouldn't increase property taxes as old debt will be paid off at that point.
Once the arts centre is operating, it's expected to cost $703,000 to operate in the first year, and $383,000 in year five, as more events are booked. Humphrey compared that to the operating costs of Kamloops' sports facilities: in 2018 the Sandman Centre cost the city $752,000 to operate, the Tournament Capital Centre cost $1.2 million and the other arenas totalled $2.2 million.
A common concern around finances is the $22 million the project is expected to see funded through grants and donations.
"We talked a lot about corporate campaigns and grants, provincial and federal grants; they weren't aware that wasn't all door-to-door campaign fundraising," Humphrey says. "They thought it was crowdfunding, not grants."
The city's budget and planning manager David Hallinan explained more about the $22 million to concerned citizens.
"A lot of the organizations that provide grant funding and support these initiatives really want to know for sure that it's going to go so once we go through the referendum on Apr. 4 and find out 'Yes it's happening' or 'No it's not' that will open the door," he says. "If it's a yes, the catalyst for fundraising will be there."
"And I expect that we'll probably exceed the $22 million."
McCorkell notes that while the city operates multiple arenas, the only large theatre is Sagebrush Theatre. The city estimated 3,800 youth in the city participate in performing arts activities.
"There are a number of people in town who we currently don't service with facilities, but we seem fine with providing hockey rinks, and curling rinks and pools and parks, but theatre groups have to do it on their own? Why?" he says.
He adds that there's a disparity between who's using city facilities, with most arenas being mostly used by boys hockey teams.
"There are more girls in the arts world — dance, music, singing — and we don't provide facilities for that," he says. "That's just an observation; is it fair? It's not my job to be fair, my job is to say 'Hey, there's an issue here.'"
Rita Hallinan came, even though she's an avid supporter of the project. She often goes to symphony shows at the Sagebrush Theatre but hopes to see something better built.
"I am for it, I do go to the symphony and I thoroughly enjoy it but it's a very uncomfortable venue to be at," she says. "I think it's time we have something like this; we are a growing community and we need something to offer people."
The city is holding a second information session tonight, Feb. 13 at the Valley First Lounge (at the Sandman Centre) things start at 6 p.m. and run to 8 p.m. It will include a presentation from the city about the proposal and referendum and is followed by round tables with city staff so people can ask questions.