Maybe Kamloops should leave arts and culture to Vernon

VERNON HAS SHOWN Kamloops how it’s done. Again.

Last Saturday, Vernon residents voted to build themselves a $40-million multi-purpose cultural facility downtown. Of that, $25 million will be borrowed, the rest coming from grants, donations and “partnerships.”

The storyline is familiar. While Kamloops already has a very good art gallery, it needs a new concert hall, commonly referred to in these parts as a PAC (performing arts centre). Vernon already has a PAC but needs a new home for its art gallery and museum, which are currently in two different, aging buildings.

Kamloops needs a new home for its museum, too, but it no longer gets mentioned in conversations about a new arts and culture building.

Vernon’s new three-story, 57,000 sq. ft. centre will include a 150-200 seat performance space and meeting spaces as well as the two main facilities. It will be built on a parking lot where a hotel used to be.

How does a small town like Vernon get arts and culture facilities, and Kamloops sits around arguing about it, year after year?

For one thing, Vernon understands the importance of arts and culture. It built a beautiful 750-seat concert hall, the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre, in 2001. That centre also has a smaller “black box” theatre.

The art gallery-museum approved last weekend will add $48 a year to taxes for the average assessed home in Vernon. That’s $10 more than what the Kamloops PAC would have cost Kamloops taxpayers had they approved it. So, Vernon is willing to pay for arts and culture.

(Kamloops may be the Tournament Capital, but Vernon invests is sports, too. Three years ago, taxpayers approved another $24 addition to their tax bill to borrow $13.5 million for an addition to their ice arena.)

Vernon’s vision is reaping rewards — its PAC will soon be paid off, with the net result being little change in taxes when the new facility gets built.

The name for the new art gallery-museum is the Greater Vernon Cultural Centre.

Note the terminology: “Vernon and District” and “Greater Vernon.”

The facilities in Vernon aren’t just for those who live in town; they’re paid for on a sub-regional basis. The referendum just approved was voted on by residents of Vernon, two adjacent regional district electoral areas and the District of Coldstream.

After the failure of the 2015 PAC referendum here, Sun Rivers residents wondered why they weren’t included. Their vote could have made the difference, and it would be logical to talk about creating a service area for projects that aren’t dependent on City boundaries.

Then-mayor Peter Milobar and his council — including current mayor Ken Christian who was a councillor at the time — weren’t interested. It’s the City’s jurisdiction, they said. A City thing.

In Greater Vernon, politicians were willing to run on the tax increase needed to get it done. They didn’t pay lip service and waffle. They talked about the benefits to the city and region, and about the return on investment.

In Kamloops, pretty well every single candidate in the civic election supported taking another look at a PAC for Kamloops. But it was a different story when it came to raising taxes to do it.

Oh, no, we must not raise taxes. Must be done through fundraising and corporate partnerships. We must think small, build something cheaper.

Coun. Kathy Sinclair, whose day job is with the Kamloops Arts Council and who championed the proposal that got defeated in 2015, certainly supports the PAC. Now she needs to move past waiting for “a sound plan” and convince her colleagues to get behind a new, defined project.

That project needs to be developed through broad-based community dialogue, but City council has to be a key player. It will take some education on the new council — I won’t embarrass anyone but one of the successful newcomers suggested during the campaign that the City get an arts and culture master plan, not realizing the City has had one since 2003. A performing arts centre is the core of that plan — it just never gets done.

And it’s not going to be done without raising taxes; everybody knows it but is afraid to say it. They fear those who rail against “elites” and those who forget that a 1,500-seat theatre would be more than a symphony hall, that it would accommodate packed-house populist shows like Mamma Mia, Million Dollar Quartet, Jeans ‘n Classics, and the upcoming Elf.

But if it’s not going to be done right, why do it at all? If we’re so unwilling to pay for it, leave arts and culture to Vernon and other cities who are.

ELECTION BITS: Winning a seat on Kamloops City council doesn’t mean you can ignore your day job. Mike O’Reilly was back serving up coffee behind the counter at Motivo first thing Monday morning…. I guess it’s OK now to reveal that Donovan Cavers predicted his own political demise. After an election forum, he told me he’d lose both the City council and school board elections because voters thought they’d have to choose one election or the other and would decide not to pick him for either…. I really hope all the successful candidates are now finished with being “humbled and honoured”…. And while we’re at it, maybe the media could lose “the horseshoe” cliché in reference to council chambers.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and newspaper editor. He publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at

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