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Arts council fire hall plans still up in the air

Council wants more info before deciding whether or not to sign Memorandum of Understanding with CDAC
The old Fire Hall No. 1 on 11th Ave. South in downtown Cranbrook.

After last week's budget meeting, the Cranbrook and District Arts Council's proposal to take up residence in the Fire Hall No. 1 — the old fire hall — is still up in the air.

Council elected to not make any decisions on the matter until it hears from city staff on the feasibility of the proposal.

At the Feb. 11 meeting, Council received correspondence from Sioban Staplin, president of the Cranbrook and District Arts Council regarding Fire Hall No. 1.

The correspondence included a draft business plan to turn the old fire hall into a centre for arts, education and culture.

Coun. Norma Blissett said, through discussions with those on the arts council, one of the biggest things that could help them is for council to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) so they can move forward in applying for grants in the next few weeks.

"It doesn't mean that we're committing to them being in the fire hall, or what's going to happen in the fire hall, but it allows them to possibly leverage a lot more money to fix it up," Blissett said. "I don't think there's a downside with that."

Blissett asked to put forward a motion that council move to immediately sign the Memorandum of Understanding. The memorandum had been in place up until the end of December 2014 under the previous council.

CAO Wayne Staudt noted that to put forward the motion, Coun. Blissett would need a notice of motion.

"And since that issue that you're talking about is really probably not budget related, it probably would be a regular council meeting," Staudt said. "And because it is an MOU, which is more of a legal document, quite often we deal with those in closed (in-camera meetings)."

Staudt said city staff would likely be finished most of the research and could bring the items back to council at the Feb. 23 meeting.

Coun. Danielle Cardozo noted that the window to apply for the grants was closing.

Cardozo said that in the letter the arts council identified the Western Economic Diversification Infrastructure Improvement Funding — with an application deadline of Feb. 19 — and Community Initiatives — which has a deadline of Feb. 16.

“So by waiting to the Feb. 23 meeting, they won’t have those letters or the MOU,” she said.

Cardozo asked whether in the meantime council could send a letter of support.

“It’s not an MOU, it’s just saying we support them applying for these funds,” she said. “You can always give the money back, that’s the thing. When you get a grant it’s very easy to say: ‘You know what, the project didn’t work, we have to give the funds back.’”

Cardozo said she would rather see that, then see the arts council miss out on the funding opportunities.

She noted that the old fire hall is a city asset, and so if a group wants to invest in a building it’s a win for the city no matter what happens to it.

Staudt reiterated that the move would have to come from a council resolution.

Mayor Lee Pratt said he didn’t want to get into too many details about the discussion.

“I think right now, what we want to do is have council or staff look at the report they’ve given us, analyze the report they’ve given us, analyze their financial statement, their projected revenues and make an educated guess — or educated proposal — of whether or not we want to accept the whole idea of the arts council inhabiting the fire hall,” Pratt said. He added that upcoming budget talks included a $500,000 loan on the old fire hall.

“I sympathize with the deadlines of the grant applications, but personally I’m not prepared to put the city at risk by putting out money for someone else to get grants,” he said. “I’m personally not in favour of going forward with that proposal by Coun. Cardozo.”

Pratt said he preferred to hear the recommendation from city staff, discuss the art council proposal in council and then make a decision on it then.

Staudt noted that signing the MOU is seen as a show of good faith.

“To say that it doesn’t tie your hand, I would say that then maybe you’re entering into the MOU with not the best intention,” Staudt said. “If I’m entering into an MOU with you, it’s usually going to result in a legal agreement down the road… if council is not willing to go down that path with anybody, then don’t — in my opinion — enter into the MOU. If council is going to go down that path, to the end of that path, then you enter into the MOU.”

Coun. Tom Shypitka said in that case they owe it to the citizens of Cranbrook to do a feasibility study on how viable the proposal is.

Coun. Isaac Hockley agreed, noting that while he is a photographer and wants to support the arts council, he also wants more time to look at the proposal.

Coun. Ron Popoff also agreed that the key is that the agreement needs to be made in good faith.

“I just think it would be irresponsible for us to enter into any letters (of support) or MOUs at this time, because we may turn out to not be in good faith if we do sign those —or make those agreements — today or going forward,” Popoff said.

Council accepted the correspondence and city staff plan bring further information forward at the Feb. 23 regular council meeting.