Kamloops said no, Vernon said yes: Will Kelowna be next to make a major cultural investment? - InfoNews

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Kamloops said no, Vernon said yes: Will Kelowna be next to make a major cultural investment?

Kelowna Community Theatre needs accessible washrooms and a bigger foyer but a replacement is many years away.
November 15, 2018 - 6:30 PM

KELOWNA - With the approval of a $25 million referendum in the North Okanagan last month, efforts are underway to secure senior government assistance to build a $40 million multi-purpose cultural centre.

The Vernon cultural centre would include a 150- to 200-seat performance space, a museum and art gallery with room for travelling exhibits, and classroom and workshop spaces along with a gift shop.

In 2015, Kamloops rejected a proposal to transform the former Kamloops Daily News building into a performing arts centre complex and parkade at a cost of about $90 million. The parkade accounted for $25 million of that cost, but the two projects were considered inseparable at that time.

Now Kelowna is starting a process that is expected to lead to a new cultural plan by the end of 2019. While the plan will cover a wide range of cultural activities, there is a need to consider the expensive job of renovating or replacing aging cultural facilities.

“Key buildings in the City's inventory of cultural infrastructure, such as the Kelowna Community Theatre and the Okanagan Heritage Museum, continue to age, with mounting structural deficits, as new buildings go up around them,” states a city background document on the new plan.

But cultural advocates have a long road ahead of them if they want to see any major initiative come forward for new facilities in Kelowna.

First of all, the Cultural Plan has to be drafted. Public consultation started last summer and will ramp up in January but, cultural services manager Christine McWillis – who is drafting the plan largely without the assistance of consultants – doesn’t expect it to be adopted until next fall.

Council has already approved a spending plan for the next 12 years, which has little in the short term for culture.

That plan does list a $61 million replacement for the 853-seat Kelowna Community Theatre between 2025 and 2027 and a $44.7 million replacement for Kelowna’s museum in 2030.

But both those projects are listed as “Priority 2.” That means, even that far into the future, they are unlikely to be approved. The spending plan is expected to be updated each year so a strong lobby from McWillis and/or cultural groups could push up both the time frame and priority ranking.

In the meantime, patrons will have to put up with the existing Kelowna Community Theatre.

“Probably the biggest challenge we have with it is washroom facilities for the disabled,” Kelowna parks and building planning manager Robert Parlane said. “And the foyer is quite small for facility this size.”

The community theatre was built in 1962, when Kelowna had a population of 15,000, versus the nearly 130,000 it has today.

It’s one of three other city owned buildings designated as cultural.

Kelowna Heritage Museum was built in 1967 with a second floor added in 1975. Kelowna Art Gallery was opened in 1996 and the Rotary Centre for the Arts, with its 326-seat Mary Irwin Theatre, was completed in 2002.

But culture is seen as more than theatre, music and art. Just what it includes is part of the current planning process.

Input has been received, so far, from 150 people who were asked to define what culture means to them.

“There was a broad range of results from culture being multiculturalism to art, to heritage, to my community’s identity, where I go in my community, what I do, how I participate,” McWillis said. “So there was a broad range. It was quite an open question.”

Results are still being compiled.

The budget for the Cultural Plan is $25,000 which will include a consultant to update the economic impact of culture. The figure that was used during the recent civic election of $143 million was actually calculated in 2010.

“We want to be reflective of the big changes that have happened in Kelowna, in particular in the tech sector that will really impact the creative sector," McWillis said. “They have animation, games, movies, film production. All of that has had a big impact in Kelowna.”

Public input will continue. Cultural groups are being offered cash incentives of up to $500 each to hold their own “conversations” about culture and report back to McWillis. There’s an information session at City Hall from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 29 or groups can register online here.

There is a Young Professionals Forum on Jan. 29, 2019 and a Youth Forum for Grade 11 and 12 students on Jan. 30, 2019. Applications can be made online here.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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