PENTICTON - The empty lot at the corner of Nanaimo Avenue and Ellis Street has been vacant for years, and the performing arts community may lose their shot at building a new performing arts centre if they don't submit an updated business plan to the city.
Jake Kimberley raised concerns about the lot at the last council meeting, Aug. 5, on behalf of the South Okanagan Performing Arts Centre. He requested a restricted covenant be placed on the lot, which would prohibit development of anything other than a performing arts centre on that land.
Coun. Helena Konanz said she would hate to see the lot stay empty for another five or 10 years because the group is not inclined to work on an updated business plan.
She said she is not in favour of the covenant and hopes instead “the public would have enough confidence in the council they vote in… that they will make the right choice with what should go in on that lot.”
Other councillors, including Judy Sentes and John Vassilaki, agreed there has to be a business plan if the project is going to move forward.
“To do this now would be, in SOPAC’s thinking, a waste of tax dollars… If it didn't get built in another five or 10 years, the costs would again have to be re-estimated,” he said. “Doing an updated cost and business plan would just be throwing money away.”
The SOPAC board has raised $200,000 through fundraising and grants. It would cost an estimated $42 million to construct the 750 seat theatre.
The centre is part of a plan for a cultural corridor — one of the few long term visions the city has, said Coun. Katie Robinson
The lot was purchased by the city several years ago with the expectation of an arts centre, however that dream has not yet come to fruition over half a decade later.
The project will be an economic generator throughout the whole South Okanagan, said Kimberley.
“The potential development of this area over the years would provide a significant boost to the overall downtown economy,” he said.
The business plan needs an updated cost estimate, which can be done closer to when the project is ready to be constructed, he said.
“I’m very concerned that if we don’t do something positive along Ellis Street fairly soon that other interests will take over and soon our vision for that street will be lost,” said Mayor Garry Litke.
And with the upcoming elections there’s a chance some or all current council members won’t be around when future decisions are made for the improvement on Ellis Street, it is important to set future council up with the go ahead for these kind of projects that meet the cultural vision that has been in place for years for this area of town.
On Aug. 5, council directed staff to come up with options for the next meeting. The options presented this week were for council to approve the covenant, take no action at this time or direct staff in a different direction.
After a lengthy discussion, council voted to keep the lot as it is for the time being.
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