Performing Arts Centre: The Sequel

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
November 28, 2017 - 5:00am

KAMLOOPS — Let’s start this week’s blog with a bold statement. Something along the lines of, “The performing arts centre (PAC) does not belong, nor is it needed in the downtown core of Kamloops.” In fact, let’s add to that by suggesting, “It is especially not suitable for the corner of Fourth and Seymour.”

I mean seriously, Fourth and Seymour? We’ve got a brand new parking lot there and who in their right mind would want to tear up that pristine field of awe inspiring asphalt, with all those beautiful and matching lines for some highbrow centre for the performing arts?

As for alternative locations, Stuart Wood is now committed to other uses as is the once proposed site beside the Hotel 540. So what’s a city to do? Limited land availability, a still top of the mind defeat of the $90 million, “There is no plan B” spending referendum and with an election year coming up, a “no controversial decisions please” city council.

So the run of the mill ideas are dead and I think I’m probably safe in suggesting that political will and courage to champion a PAC is something no one at city hall is up for at the moment. To do so would incur the wrath of those who will want to remind you of that previously mentioned referendum. And we all know that naysayers are the antipathy of politicians looking for the comfort and security of fence-sitting.

Making decisions, putting your name on new ideas, being open-minded and creating a movement from the ground up are not items you often find in political CVs. Empty bromides about having solutions for the social inequity of the day are far safer ground for the decision-averse.

So I thought I’d take a swing at a new PAC idea. After all, I’m not a politician — I learned my lesson about that the hard yet fun way last fall — and I believe there is a time and a place for a performing arts centre in Kamloops. However, not in the downtown core and not for 90 million taxpayer dollars.

Let’s begin the PAC conversation by stretching the thinking and imagination a bit and moving the PAC concept over to the North Shore. The Henry Grube site, at least in my opinion, would be ideal.

Yes, I realize this will not make me the poster boy of the “four blocks of Victoria St. are the centre of the universe crowd.” However, just imagine for a moment a PAC situated where the North and South Thompson Rivers meet. On that point of land, it would overlook and be overlooked by the city and the combination of site and design could turn it into an iconic centre that would identify Kamloops for decades to come. A centrepiece for the city combining buildings, parks and waterfront terraces with public spaces and walkways that would tie into the existing pathways along the river. It could include an outdoor amphitheatre as home base for Project X that could also serve as an outdoor summer concert location for the Kamloops Symphony.

As for money? Partner with a hotel and allow the facilities to be shared as a new conference/convention centre. Land acquisition costs could be reduced, maybe even eliminated if the city were to consider trading their infamous parking lot on Fourth and Seymour for the Henry Grube location.

The school district would get the perfect downtown location for their offices and maybe centralize and relocate extended education classes to Seymour as well. It could even include some condos on the top floors as a way to recover capital costs for the school district.

In return, the city would get a location that would be recognized for generations to come as the symbolic cultural and public spaces heart of our city.

Tranquille would be anchored on the west by the Library Square and on the East by the Performing Arts Centre and be the spark that starts the long overdue revitalization of the North Shore. It would be a commitment that refocused development and attention to the North Shore but not at the expense of the south shore. Instead, we begin to grow up, act like adults and realize, recognize and celebrate that real cities actually thrive because of differing neighbourhoods.

It’s called, among other things, vitality. Where a city’s life, energy and spirit are the sum of its parts. And a healthy city is a city that encourages and facilitates that diversity and spirit of neighbourhood.