It doesn’t get talked about much anymore, but the idea of a large performing arts centre in Penticton’s downtown is still alive.
At least, the South Okanagan Performing Arts Centre Society is fighting hard to keep it alive.
Two empty properties at the corner of Ellis and Nanaimo streets have long been earmarked for a major performance facility, and now the group wants the city to put that idea on title.
SOPAC representative Jake Kimberley said he expects to be back before Penticton council on Aug. 18 with a proposed bylaw for a restrictive covenant on two city-owned properties.
“Overall, the feeling of SOPAC and the board is simply to recognize the purpose that land was originally for, a performing arts centre,” he said in an interview Wednesday, explaining that the intention is to ensure that if this or any subsequent councils should decide to sell the land, it would have to come before the public for their input.
The proposal would include a 750-seat main theatre, rehearsal space and other amenities as well as a smaller, more intimate studio theatre.
But Kimberley said the theatre would just be the keystone to the a larger development stretching down to the Penticton Art Gallery.
“The whole objective was to see the whole of Ellis developed as a cultural corridor. The area in question is one that needs some attention, that needs some development to happen,” said Kimberley, who is also a former mayor of Penticton. “That’s what we want to impress upon council. Don’t throw this property away, don’t give it to the next bidder that comes in the door, because it has the potential of doing great things for the overall economy.”
Kimberly said SOPAC’s request was triggered by concerns that the city might be thinking of selling off the Ellis Street properties and by the redevelopment of the old PenMar theatre into the Valley First community arts centre.
While the two operations share some common goals, Kimberley said SOPAC has a larger vision.
“The PenMar has developed into a similar type of operation, but we didn’t want city council to believe that was going to accommodate the future interests of performing arts,” said Kimberley, explaining that in SOPAC’s view, a larger facility with more amenities will still be needed to attract professional shows.
Likewise, said Kimberley, the city’s current 250-seat Cleland Theatre is too small and lacks adequate seating to accommodate major performing arts shows.
“This is the future and we are not saying that it has to be built tomorrow. We are saying this is something the community will need in the future to bring economy in. If you lose that property, there is nowhere else it can go,” said Kimberley. “As much as the Penmar is looking for success, we have no opposition to that, there is limited space there for them to grow the facility.”
According to Kimberley, SOPAC doesn’t want to eliminate any other future uses for the property, but wants a restrictive covenant to ensure the public will have input before the proposed use is changed. They say the project has potential for improving the downtown economy and shouldn’t be forgotten.
“It has the potential of bringing a huge amount of tax revenues into the city without any infrastructure changes,” said Kimberley. “If you lose the corner property, which is the performing arts property, you are going to lose the rest of it.”