Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Michael Brydon: Another white elephant

The following letter appeared in the Jun 4th edition of the Herald:

Proponents of the 700-seat South Okanagan Performing Arts Centre (SOPAC) believe that they have no chance of getting funding for a new facility as long as the 700-seat former Pen-Hi auditorium is standing. What these folks fail to recognize, however, is that they have little chance of getting funding, even if the Pen-Hi auditorium is ground to dust and paved over. Unfortunately, our local politicians have no way of knowing this because, as Mayor Kimberley’s has recently admitted, “this council has not deliberated on the financing of [a new] performing arts centre”. Our leaders are, in effect, flying blind.

Such disregard for the fine economic details is dangerous. Indeed, the last time this council told us to trust it on a major capital project (the events centre), it cost the taxpayers of Penticton an extra $17M. With an eye to avoiding a similar fiasco, I have included a cost comparison of various alternatives for a large performing arts facility. The proposed Penticton arts, recreation, and culture (PARC) complex incorporates the existing, taxpayer-owned buildings made surplus by the construction of a new Pen-Hi (the Shatford building, the north gym, and the auditorium). Admittedly, the former Pen-Hi auditorium will never have a revolving stage (and all the economic benefits and spillovers such a feature entails); however, the former Pen-Hi buildings could provide Penticton with a large performing arts venue, a smaller studio theatre, and a magnificent gymnasium for a fraction of the cost and risk of a new performing arts centre. Given that the city is broke and has many other priorities, including sewage treatment, swimming pool modernization, and increased policing, my guess is that most taxpayers would prefer a cheaper, adequate performing arts centre to another magnificent and costly white elephant.
But our politicians have no intention of finding out what taxpayers think. They already know that at least 2,600 people in the community have expressed dismay with their decision to demolish the Pen-Hi buildings. Given that the margin of victory in the last mayoral election was only 500 votes, the more arithmetically-astute politicians may reckon that they are in a race against the electoral clock. Their only hope of getting their pet project built is to eliminate the only affordable alternative before voters make their voices heard in the fall. Why else would city council and SD67 be so loathe to give voters a real choice in a referendum?