What to expect if the performing arts centre goes to referendum

Artist rendering of proposed performing arts centre.

KAMLOOPS – The preliminary proposal for a performing arts centre in Kamloops has definitely got people talking and while where to build and what to include have, for the most part, been answered at the most basic level, what hasn’t is whether the public supports the $90-million project and the accompanying price tag.

Mayor Peter Milobar says the city needs a definitive answer from the public on the proposed performing arts centre, and a referendum is one way to obtain this. He notes it takes roughly six months from the time council sets a question for a referendum to the time the public can actually vote on it.

“Realistically, I would hope by mid-May that we could be in a position of comfort around the council table to at least approve the wording of a referendum question,” Milobar says.

If council can decide by mid-May a fall referendum is possible.

Once the question is posed it goes to Victoria for provincial approval. In the months that follow, council will continue to gather and share information with the public so they can make an informed choice.

Council could, however, choose not to hold a referendum at all and instead go the route of a counter petition. This petition would require 10 per cent of registered voters to sign against a performing arts centre in order to halt the project. This is what happened with the downtown parkade proposal in 2011. If the centre is voted down by a petition council could still hold a referendum or decide to abandon the project.

A referendum is typically held when public opinion is deemed necessary on a particular issue. In the case of the performing arts centre, the question to residents would likely be centred around the will to take on nearly $50 million in debt for the project.

If more than 50 per cent of votes cast are in favour, then the performing arts centre centre could go through, debt and all. If more than 50 per cent are not in favour of the proposal it could result in council and staff heading back to the drawing board.

“That would be up to council and the community to decide,” Milobar says.

The community has talked about a cultural building like this since 2003, and Milobar feels with this having been an issue through two municipal elections, residents deserve a carefully constructed, thoughtful building plan.

“I’m committed to making sure that we present a very solid, doable project and then let the public decide if they still want to see it happen or not.” He says, adding there has been strong support of the concept but now it's up to the public to decide whether to support it financially.

If the project is defeated Milobar says he 'doesn’t have a huge appetite' to continue on with the project. As mayor he says there are other issues that need his and council’s attention and would rather continue with other infrastructure needs.

Past referendums in Kamloops include, most recently, one in 2003 for the borrowing of $37.6 million to build the Tournament Capital Centre. At the end of 2014 the debt was calculated at just over $28 million, with debt repayment continuing until 2032.

This referendum, a debt specific referendum very similar to the question facing the performing arts centre, passed at 54 per cent.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Dana Reynolds at dreynolds@infonews.ca or call 250-819-6089. To contact an editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

— This story was updated 10:10 a.m., April 28, with additional details on a previous referendum.

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