Kelowna chamber of politics? Councillors respond to 'Legacy Group' proposal | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna chamber of politics? Councillors respond to 'Legacy Group' proposal

Phase 1 of the Kelowna Legacy Group's vision for redevloping the former RCMP site is much the same as the city's current plan.
Image Credit: Kelowna Legacy Concept - 2019 from Les Bellamy on Vimeo.
October 04, 2019 - 5:00 PM

KELOWNA - A number of Kelowna city councillors are confused and a little put out by the Kelowna Legacy Group.

That group, made up mostly of former presidents of the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, held a press conference yesterday, Oct. 3, calling on the city to stop its call for proposals to redevelop part of the former RCMP site on Doyle Avenue and re-plan the future development of that and three other nearby city-owned properties.

The press conference was held three days after the deadline to submit proposals and six or so weeks after individual councillors were taken to coffee or lunches by group members who wanted the city to cancel the proposal call it had already issued. Announcing an informal 'plan' or proposal or suggestion at a press conference is unusual; normal courses would be to submit a proposal through the normal requests for proposals or make a delegation to council. That, plus the backgrounds of many group members have some councillors wondering what the real intention is. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they (legacy group members) didn’t show up at the next election,” Coun. Gail Given told “I can’t speculate what the group’s intentions really are. At first, we heard convention centre on that site. Then their perspective changed and they got onto the piece that we won’t be able to have a performing arts centre so I don’t know what their end goal is. I don’t know if this is related to the election – that’s three years off – but it very well may be.”

The legacy group includes Tom Dyas who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2018 and Laura Thurnheer who failed in her bid to win a spot on city council in 2014. Both are former Kelowna chamber of commerce presidents. The group also includes former chamber presidents Ken Bessason, Lorraine Carruthers, Paul Mitchell and Norm LeCavalier. It also includes several other high profile residents including former QHR Technologies CEO Al Hildebrandt, Canadian Home Builders Association president Les Bellamy, former and Southwest Audio owner Cal McCarthy and several others.

“I feel like Tom (Dyas) ran for mayor and lost and Tom still wants to have an opinion,” Coun. Ryan Donn said. “If he was mayor of Kelowna he would have a bigger influence on next steps... But what I get from the public - versus 12 random people who have the money and capacity to put together a video - what I hear the public saying is ‘please prioritize funding the Kelowna Community Theatre.’ Any decision I make, I will listen to the general public that voted me in here versus a person whose opinion wasn’t voted in as the mayor of Kelowna.”

Donn said it was odd when, a year ago while Dyas was the past president, the chamber was quoting him in their media releases instead of the president at that time. However, Donn said it made sense after Dyas announced he was running for mayor and, Donn believes, used his past role in the chamber as self-promotion.

“Is this the chamber of commerce or the chamber of politics?” Donn asked. “Seems like the chamber is a political entity. Every opinion they seem to have is front page, public, against whatever decision council’s taking. We could pick a topic and you look at the opposite opinion and that’s the opinion of the chamber of commerce.”

Calls to Dyas and current chamber president Nikki Csek were not returned by time of publication. 

Donn was willing to make those comments on record but was echoed by another councillor who suggested the chamber thinks it’s a “quasi-government” and is trying to embarrass council. In an emailed statement, Mayor Colin Basran said he appreciated the input but noted that his vision is well beyond the four properties the Legacy Group focussed on, referring to the Civic Precinct Plan. 

One of the biggest complaints councillors have about the legacy group’s approach is that the development of the former RCMP site has been in process since 2014. That started with public consultation that led to the adoption of the Civic Precinct Plan in March 2016 and covers more than four city-owned properties.

The city went through its normal consultation process and calling for proposals for a private developer to lease part of the former RCMP site and put in at least 10 floors of housing for the first phase.

The legacy group’s video calls for a very similar development of that site. 

That group also calls for a new community theatre to be built on the City Hall parking lot so the city doesn’t lose a theatre for a year or more while the theatre is rebuilt.

But the design and location of a new theatre hasn’t been decided and there is no funding for it. Donn stressed the need for the community to start that process.

There’s a better way to get the legacy group’s viewpoint across, Coun. Charlie Hodge suggested.

“There’s nothing to stop them from having gone through the process like everyone has gone through and make a proposal,” he said.

-This story was updated Oct. 5 to clarify Donn's comments concerning Dyas' past influence over the chamber. It was corrected again at 11:49 a.m., Oct. 7 to delete reference to Ron Cannan as a member of the legacy group. He is not a member.

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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