Kamloops council wants public approval for $275M loan for new arts centre, sports facility by fall | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops council wants public approval for $275M loan for new arts centre, sports facility by fall

A photo of a handout depicting a rendering of a new performing arts centre in downtown Kamloops distributed at the Jan. 8, 2019 city council meeting.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/CHP Architects

Kamloops taxpayers can look forward to deciding on whether the City should take out hundreds of millions in loans before the provincial election this fall.

City council announced the plan yesterday, June 25, that would have the City take out a $275 million loan to fund both a performing arts centre and a massive sports facility. Council unanimously approved it the same day.

"We've been very vocal that we have been trying to advance this as quickly as possible. At the same time we know there's a provincial election coming up," Coun. Mike O'Reilly said. "We expect to have this wrapped up before the writ drops for the election."

He said the aim is to avoid making it a provincial election issue.

That gives the City until to Sept. 21 to get Kamloops taxpayers to decide on the loans, which are split into $140 million for the arts centre and $135 million for the multiplex.

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Progress on Kamloops city hall's Build Kamloops project appeared to move slowly for months, then a report detailing the massive borrowing proposal and plans for capital projects came to the Tuesday council meeting. In reality the plans had been moving ahead steadily at the Build Kamloops committee table behind closed doors.

The unanimous vote came after months of anticipation that this council would finally see the performing arts centre brought back to the table after a 2020 referendum on a previous loan was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Every council member supported the performing arts centre, which they each made known ahead of the 2022 election. Even Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson said as much, but he began to show apprehension toward plans for the downtown arts facility, saying his concerns were around the availability of parking in the city centre.

The mayor suggested the centre be built outside the downtown core where there would be ample space for parking, describing an area similar to the Tournament Capital Ranch in Rayleigh.

City staff assured Hamer-Jackson that downtown already has a surplus of parking that will be eased even further when the cancer centre's 470-space parkade is built for hospital staff who often currently park downtown.

Protective services director Ken Uzeloc added Kamloops doesn't have a parking problem, it has a shortage of parking "immediately adjacent to where people want to go."

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Not only did both staff and the rest of council say parking would be no issue, several members of the public showed up at yesterday's meeting to voice their support for the plans for the theatre that has been years in the making and was always envisioned for the former Kamloops Daily News site on Seymour Street. Those included Downtown Kamloops executive director Howie Reimer, prominent local business owner Dino Bernardo and Henry Pejril of the Kamloops Sports Council.

Hamer-Jackson voted with the rest of council to approve the projects without proposing any changes.

If voters approve, the arts centre will go ahead as planned, but it's not clear just how that might happen.

The City may go ahead with with a referendum for both the multi-million dollar loans or it may pursue what's called an alternative approval process.

The latter is more like a counter petition where at least 10 per cent of eligible voters have to sign to stop the plans. If the approval process meets the 10% threshold, the City can then abandon the projects altogether, come back with a new question citizens or use the same question in a referendum.

The new multiplex is expected to include four rinks, which would be the first net increase in ice sheets since the Sandman Centre was built in 1992. It's planned to be on a plot of city land near the Dufferin neighbourhood and the Kenna Cartwright tower parking lot on Hillside Drive.

If approved, the City would only take out the loans once each facility is opened in 2029. The tax increase for the average home is then estimated to be $25 each year for five years to begin paying off the debt.

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