Performing arts centre plans, potential referendum discussed with federal minister

Arts centre talk heating up

Talk of a potential performing arts centre in downtown Kamloops is heating back up, with plans for the project — and a possible referendum — discussed this week during a federal minister’s visit to the city.

Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson told Castanet he discussed the would-be facility with International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan during a meeting on Monday morning.

The mayor said Sajjan seemed receptive when it came to the possibility of federal cash helping to fund a performing arts centre in Kamloops.

“I think he was open to anything,” Hamer-Jackson said. “Matter of fact, I think they’re open to anything.”

High on mayor's priority list

Hamer-Jackson said a performing arts centre is “near the top” of his list of priorities as mayor.

“I think you’ll see in our strategic plan,” he said, teasing a document that is expected to become public in the coming weeks. “We’ve got to get to work here.”

In 2015, a referendum on a proposed performing arts centre failed by a slim margin. The city was slated to hold another one in April of 2020, but it was cancelled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 plans called for a $70-million facility to be built at Fourth Avenue and Seymour Street, the site of the former Kamloops Daily News building.

There were rumours borrowing for the facility would be included as a referendum question on the ballot during last October’s municipal election, but that did not happen.

Referendum could be this year

Talk now among those in the know is that a referendum could take place later this year.

Howie Reimer, head of the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association, said he showed the proposed site to Sajjan during a walking tour on Monday.

“I just mentioned that this was the footprint and it probably is going to referendum in the fall again,” he said.

Reimer said the project would do a lot for downtown vibrancy, especially paired with the ongoing $200-million City Gardens development a few blocks away.

“It’s a huge project — it’s potentially a huge boon for downtown,” he said.

“But we want to engage with our downtown businesses, we want to find out what the ask is as far as the referendum is concerned. So we won’t have an official position until we do that.”

Likely supported downtown

Reimer noted the KCBIA was fully supportive of the project ahead of the scuttled 2020 referendum.

“Once we know what those asks are we will send out a survey to our businesses and our membership to see what our official position will be,” he said.

“But I don’t anticipate too many downtown businesses would be opposed to that increased activity.”

When asked about a potential fall referendum, Hamer-Jackson said he had “no idea.”

“I’m sure that would be a council decision,” he said.

Hamer-Jackson said he’s hopeful he and city council can put their well-documented issues behind them and get to work on projects like the performing arts centre.

“I think we’ve really got to start to focus on — us as a council, all of us, myself included — focus on a lot of these things,” he said. “Not just focused on other things.”

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