The Cranbrook and District Art Council outlined its proposal for a gallery at the old fire hall at Monday night’s council meeting.
Sioban Staplin, current president, and Bill McColl, board chair, represented the members of the arts council and answered questions about the proposal.
It should be noted that initially the city council meeting included a recommendation from city staff to that would have allowed the city to list Fire Hall no. 1 for sale. That New Business item — 8.4 — was removed on Friday.
Staplin said the arts council’s plan is to repurpose the fire hall into a “vibrant arts and culture centre that will enrich the lives of the citizens of Cranbrook.” Staplin said the centre would be complete with gallery and education centre.
“Here we have an exceptional opportunity in that we have a designated heritage building in a separate location that provides many unique qualities that will enhance the delivery of arts and culture programs and events,” Staplin said.
She noted that cities like Kimberley, Nelson and Fernie have all invested in the arts.
Staplin noted that for the past three years the arts council has worked with the city on the fire hall proposal. In December of 2014, the Memorandum of Understanding expired. The document outlined the terms and relationship between the city and the arts council.
She noted that last year the city spent more than $100,000 removing asbestos from the fire hall.
The Arts Council has applied for a number of grants. It has received two at this point. The first was for $20,000 through the Columbia Kootenay Cultural Alliance. They have used $3,500 of that to hire Nelson Engineering to carry out a structural assessment of the building. The Arts Council intends to use the remaining funds to have a developer come in and assess the project.
The second grant is $50,000 to improve access to the second floor.
She noted the grants were applied for in good faith under the Memorandum and must be spent in a certain amount of time. She also noted they represent significant income to the local contractors they would likely employ.
Staplin said they have applied for $400,000 from the Western Diversification Infrastructure Fund, as well as other sources like Community Initiative funding.
“In total we have identified over $1 million in available funds,” she said.
Staplin asked for council to reinstate the Memorandum.
“We certainly appreciate the reluctance on the part of city council to expose the taxpayer to unnecessary expense,” she said. “Again we are not asking for further major expenditures from the city.”
Coun. Wesly Graham asked what the Arts Council’s “plan B” is.
“If this building doesn’t quite work out, what are other options that you’re looking at that might fit?” Graham asked.
McColl said there is a Plan B, but they have pushed it aside to pursue Plan A.
“We can’t stay where we are — the rents too high and the place is too small,” McColl said.
Coun. Danielle Cardozo echoed an earlier remark by Coun. Tom Shypitka in that council supports the Arts Council itself, but has reservations about the fire hall proposal.
Cardozo said in her other job she deals with grants and felt there are plenty of arts and culture grants out there.
“I search for grants on a daily basis and those are ones that I always wish I could apply for, because they are in abundance,” Cardozo said. “I’m confident that there is support and grants out there that you would be able to do this. I would like to see this happen. I don’t want to see this burden taxpayers.”
Cardozo said she would like to at least give a chance for the Arts Council.
“If you were given two years to do all the possible grant writing you could, say you made it to $400,000 and you put all of that work into that and in two years you have not made it to your commitment by fulfilling everything you said, are you willing to walk over to plan B and away from that building?” Cardozo asked.
Staplin said they would expect to have a timeline with deliverables and accountability.
“We would know fairly quickly how well our fundraising efforts are going,” Staplin said.
Mayor Lee Pratt said he supports arts and culture in the community.
“As a city we already make a sizeable donation to that,” Pratt said. “My concern is everything you are basing your business plan on is grants. So you’re spending your pay check before you got it. I look at your business plan and the revenue your projecting from operations doesn’t come close to covering the cost of a facility such as this. Personally I think you’re a little too ambitious with your visions.”
Pratt said the Arts Council has been around for a long time and he couldn’t see where any progress has been made.
“What happens if the grants don’t come through? I know from experience, as little as I’ve had already, that the federal government, the provincial government, they are downloading it all onto the municipalities,” he said, adding that Cranbrook has a lot of infrastructure problems to deal with and not much money to do it.
Staplin noted they also have plans on top of the grant funding, such as corporate fundraising.
Pratt also noted that grants still come from the taxpayers pocket.
“Whether I agree with the federal government or provincial government giving it away or not, that’s my opinion,” Pratt said, then addressed the notion that an investment into the fire hall would be good for the city either way — whoever took it over.
“To say that you put $2-300,000 into a building and we get it back then we have a building that’s worth more… that’s not necessarily true, because if we decided to do something else with that building, whether it be sell it or lease it, whoever leases it might come to us and say we want that removed,” Pratt said. “That’s an added cost to us because the renovations you did don’t fit into their plan.”
Jenny Humphrey noted that the renovations would be used to first repair the roof trusses and the weight bearing of the second floor — things she said would be valuable to any future buyer.