The selection of the city lot at the corner of Ellis Street and Nanaimo Avenue as a potential location for a youth centre has put many folks in this community (myself included) in a curious position.
This location is also a favoured spot for proponents of a performing arts centre. Both of these are noble endevours with hard-working volunteers supporting each. Recent comments in the media suggest a tone of drama emerging here that indicates that this could turn into something nasty. This would not be productive.
As this land belongs to the city, it therefore belongs to us all and no one group has any priority over its use. The future use of this land should be determined by the greatest good to residents with an acceptable risk/return to taxpayers.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I was asked by the hard-working proponents of the performing arts centre to sit on their board a few years ago. They are a great group who feel strongly that a performing arts centre will enliven the community.
I respectfully declined the position, but before I did, I conducted a fair bit of due diligence of performing arts centres around the province.
I discovered that many live theatres around the province were struggling financially and some had closed.
The exception was Prince George. Around 2012, the group there had received a grant of approximately $250,000 to conduct a feasibility study on building a performing arts centre in Prince George. It was going to cost $35 million and entail cooperation of three levels of government. The study outlined that even if targets of attendance and revenue were hit, the city would need to subsidize the centre at least $35,000 per year.
Recently I returned to read about the current status of that centre. It never was built as the various governments steered away from making any commitments to it. Today the price to build is over $50 million with annual subsidies estimated to be over $50,000 per year. It appears to be dead in the water.
The youth centre suggested for this location would become a hub for youth activities. It would be easy to get to by public transportation from anywhere in the city. The focus of the centre is to have something for all youth in our city and to promote activity.
It is close to the lake for swimming, kayaking and canoeing with Hoodoo Adventures just down the street. It is also close to disc golf and the tennis club, so youth could participate is affordable activities. The centre would also have professionals available if kids should need counseling or just someone to talk to about the challenges of being a young person in today’s world.
The centre would be built with funds raised through the Community Foundation of the South Okanagan and would not require ongoing subsidies from the city for operation.
One missing key ingredient is something for youth keen on performing arts. This is a large piece of land and perhaps the group supporting the performing arts centre could turn their attention to creating a youth workshop theatre that would be connected to the youth centre. This could be built at a fraction of the price and require no city subsidies.
This would attract youth to come and put on plays, put on music performances and jam. It would also ensure that there will a future appetite in this city for live music and theatre if the young people have a space to create it for themselves.
We should all pull together and make sure this is an amazing youth centre. We need to attract young families to our area and a functioning, relevant place were youth can come to and put their phones away and get active would be a huge draw.
Hopefully our friends who support the performing arts centre will see this as a win-win and get behind a youth workshop theatre.