The new Penmar Community Arts Society got a big boost from Penticton city council this week in their plans to revitalize the Penmar theatre.
Council voted to loan the new society $125,000 from a little-used account, the Amenity Contribution Capital Reserve Fund.
The Penmar Society had originally applied through the city’s annual grant process for $150,000, with the intention of treating it as a loan and repaying the city.
As an alternative to providing a grant from the general fund, city staff recommended drawing the money from the amenity fund.
Development in the downtown and urban villages has contributed to this fund, which was created in 2009 and divided into two accounts, one containing $157,000 earmarked for affordable housing and the other containing $125,000 for public amenities.
“A performing arts centre would qualify for use of these funds as an amenity,” said Anthony Haddad, director of development services.
He cautioned that the money could only be used for removable items like a stage, seating, curtains, screens and not improvements to the building itself. Council clearly was leaning in support of the Penmar project. Councillor Andrew Jakubeit described the Penmar society as enthusiastic with a realistic business and action plan.
“I view this $125,000 loan as that shot in that arm to jumpstart community engagement and a fundraising drive to get things moving forward,” said Jakubeit.
“The momentum will keep going and they might go to phase two sooner than planned.”
Some councillors however, weren’t previously aware the amenity fund existed, and were wondering if it wouldn’t be better to use some of the funds for other purposes and give the Penmar society a smaller loan.
“I am thinking that draining that account might be quite a bit for that project and $75,000 might be something I would feel more comfortable with and allocate $50,000 or so to thinking about some public restrooms in the downtown area,” said Coun. Helena Konanz.
Coun. Katie Robinson was more concerned about funding another arts group in Penticton.
“Even at the best of times, when we look at the arts community in general it’s a fairly risky proposition. I have seen many of them struggle,” said Robinson, concerned that the Penmar would have to compete with other facilities and groups around the city.
“We’ve also got the Shatford Centre that the city has put a lot of money into,” said Robinson.
“It’s going to affect the other amenities that we already have in the arts community in this town. I am wondering how thin we can stretch that.”
Coun. John Vassilaki, who was at the Penmar society’s public announcement of their plans, said a performing arts centre would be a good fit with the city’s vision for downtown.
“It will keep growing to a point where we have a decent theatre in Penticton. A performing arts theatre, which we need desperately,” he said.
“We want to get people downtown, that’s where the businesses are.
“If you don’t put something there to get people out on the street, it ain’t going to happen down there no matter how many millions of dollars we spend downtown.”
Konanz’ amendment to give the Penmar society a lesser amount and redirect money to public washrooms failed to draw a seconder.
Council voted 6-1, with Konanz opposed, in favour of authorizing staff to negotiate a loan with the Penmar society for $125,000.