Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ron Barillaro: Weighing the need for performing arts centre

The following appeared in the June 04, 2008, edition of the Western News:

The see-saw discussion, rhetoric, dialogue, hyped-press — call it what you will, it seems to ebb and flow at various times and from various individuals or factions. I guess that the real question is: Do we really urgently need a new performing arts centre? The jury is still out on this question and may be for some time.

The quandary over the saving or demolishing of the Pen High facility has brought controversy, discussion, finger-pointing and the press to the fore on several occasions. One should look at other communities our size and see what sorts of facilities they have and how old they are and what types of entertainment have been hosted.

Case in point is Brockville, Ont. (pop. 36,900). Here is a city approximately our size. It has a performing arts centre, although it does not have a convention centre the size of ours. Their arts centre was built in 1895, with many updates and upgrades over the years. There is also a very respectable art gallery in the centre. Because of geographic location, it can and does attract some world-class acts and talent. All one has to do is look where the centre is located. It is within a 200-kilometre radius of major Canadian and U.S. centres in New York state. There are New York state cities as close as 40 kilometres. Our own cities of Hull and Ottawa are within 90 minutes driving time. The city of Cornwall, Ont. is a stone’s throw away.

The population support and patronage support is almost a given. Some of the events that have been presented there are: Harry Connick Jr., Tragically Hip, Glenn Miller Orchestra, Peter Appleyard, Blue Rodeo, Great Big Sea, Roger Whittaker and Randy Bachman, to name but a few. There is a large area jazz festival that is a yearly event here. This centre is the home stage for St. Lawrence College with such productions as CATS, Beauty and the Beast, A Chorus Line and 42nd Street. The classics are represented as well with piano recitals and symphony concerts. Oops, getting carried away. Back to the subject at hand. When and if this proposed performing arts centre is built, who will we attract as patrons within a 200-km radius? Will people from Wenatchee come? Will people from the Kamloops area come? What about people from Trail or Cranbrook? The answer is ... who knows?

The next question that one needs to ask is: other than localized talent (e.g. the symphony and classical presentations, some of which I have enjoyed) who will we attract? We won’t be a Brockville, Ont. for obvious reasons. We won’t attract any acts that Kelowna couldn’t attract for obvious reasons. There isn’t a pressing need for a college interest in pursuing world-class stage productions. It begs the question: Why do we need a new performing arts centre?

Bottom line would be that taxpayers and taxpayers’ children and their children would be paying for something that would attract a few stalwarts to smaller productions. The next question might be the fact that the plans are not finalized, funding is not totally in place and commitments for funding from major government players is talked about but not in place. Who says it will be in place any time soon? If and when this project gets off of the ground, what will building costs be at that time? How much cost overrun will there be?

When all is said and done, how can the city fathers and others justify this project without realizing that costs go up and that we are a small city population-wise. It’s nice to think that the big government arm and the short casino arm will offset the taxpayers’ costs. That’s great in theory but most of us know better what the realities are or will be.

To entertain such a project is pure folly. The larger arms of government have just “ponied up” monies for a building project that is 300 miles over budget, due to construction cost increases and any other lame duck excuses that can be trumped up at the civic level. What makes city fathers think that these levels of government are going to cough up more monies for a project that is still a dream? If $30 million is the cost today, what will it be by the time that this venue comes to fruition in say two, three or even five years?

This also begs the question, Should succeeding councils have to deal with the issues set in motion by this council? Are we, as taxpayers, that gullible that we can accept this fact? And, to hear Mayor Kimberley saying that the taxpayers will not be bearing much of this load, is sheer and utter nonsense. Governments aren’t going to foot the total bill, nor can casino revenues or other grants. How much can we as taxpayers be asked to pay, so as to cover the cost?

Fellow taxpayers, now is the time to make known you sentiment if you don’t want our children and their children to be paying for something that we cannot really afford.

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