Hewlett: Yes, we need a performing arts centre

From the Fringe

Having attended last week's open house for a proposed performing arts centre, I figured it was time to chime in on the issue.

Do I think Kamloops needs a performing arts centre? Or would the time, energy and money be better spent on something the whole community can enjoy?

Did I just say whole community? Yes, but there were some at last Saturday's gathering at the Tournament Capital Centre who felt all this time and energy might be wasted on something that caters to, according to them, only five per cent of the population.

Kamloops does need a performing arts centre, especially if the city wants to keep shedding its mill-town image and draw more people to the region.

Doctors, lawyers and working professionals are attracted to communities with a good quality of life. Arts and culture are a big part of that.

Having grown up in Kamloops, I remember a time when this city was a cultural wasteland with not much to offer beyond hockey games and pubs.

I'm a big fan of hockey and pubs, by the way, so save your hate mail for something else.

Retired City councillor John O'Fee was correct in saying that there were people who balked at the idea of a Tournament Capital Centre. They didn't want to pay higher taxes for something that would only appeal to a portion of the population.

The TCC now attracts a million visitors a year and has been a big part of the city's success as the Tournament Capital of Canada.

And, as O'Fee also pointed out, a lot of those naysayers are now regular users of the facility.

A performing arts centre will allow our arts community, including Western Canada Theatre, the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra and B.C. Living Arts, to thrive and grow.

A bigger stage will attract national orchestras and ballets. A concert hall with better acoustics will mean more acts like The Tenors, KISS, Eric Church or Nelly Furtado will stop here while on tour. Shows like that will bring tourists, who will stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants and shop in our malls.

A performing arts centre will be good for the economy.

Throw in a decent restaurant, coffee shop or pub and locals will likely flock to the centre to enjoy the cuisine and drink.

It will need decent parking, a covered area for transit pickup and drop-off, and should be located near like-mind amenities. I know Denis Walsh won't like me saying that, but it's true.

He, much like my former editor Mel Rothenburger, thinks the Henry Grube Education Centre is a prime location.

On the surface, and as a lifelong North Shore resident, sure, the Grube is a great spot with an amazing view of the downtown/South Shore. And, let's face, we need something like a performing arts centre to change the hood's reputation.

But, having spoken with City administrator David Trawin and parks, culture and recreation director Byron McCorkell, I understand why Henry Grube might not work.

The City doesn't own the land; it belongs to the Kamloops-Thompson School District, so a deal needs to be worked out. Parking is not at a premium, so the City would have to acquire other property for a parkade or parking lot.

The closest intersection is at Fortune Drive and Leigh Road, and that doesn't provide easy access to the Grube.

So the City would need to improve the off-ramp at Larch Avenue or put in another intersection. And they've got to build the darn thing.

All this comes at a projected cost of at least $10 million. There are some who might take issue with the amount, and not be unjustified in doing so.

Mayor Peter Milobar told me the City has no location in mind, nor does it own land that is suitable. There are many people in favour of Henry Grube, the downtown and even the Tk'emlups Indian Reserve.

The location is a conversation for down the road.

At least, given the decent turnout at the open house, Kamloops has started the journey.

Jason Hewlett is the arts reporter for The Daily News. He can be reached by phone at 250-371-6149, by email at jhewlett@kamloopsnews.ca or on Twitter at Jason_Hewlett.

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