The recent news that the Fawcetts have been spearheading an effort to reinvigorate the development of a Performing Arts Centre is exciting for Kamloops. As a patron of the arts, I am looking forward to this getting off the ground. The Fawcetts should be applauded yet again for their investment into the community. The concept looks brilliant and the fact that it has had the participation of the arts groups themselves provides more promise that everyone is on the same page. Also very important to this is that it is in the right location, in downtown where there can be great synergies with other uses and can take advantage of the existing complementary amenities such as restaurants. A location downtown can also take advantage of an abundance of parking stalls that aren’t used at night.
That last point about location is important as there have been articles published recently and over the last couple of years suggesting that there should be consideration of putting the facility on the North Shore, notably at Henry Grube Centre. It seems that there are a couple of reasons for this – one would be that it would be appeasing North Shore residents who feel that they always get the short end of the stick on civic investments and that developing the Henry Grube site would be a catalyst for further investment in this area taking advantage of access to the riverfront. As a North Shore resident, I’d love more investment into our neighbourhood; however, as a citizen of Kamloops and someone who goes to the theatre, and as a community planner, I have to disagree with the logic. Here are some reasons:
Nearby Population – in the vicinity of the Henry Grube, there are about 1100 people living within walking distance while downtown there are about 2500 people living within walking distance of the proposed location with 200 – 300 residential units within a couple of blocks of the location. There are also 200 – 300 residential units proposed to developed in the next couple of years downtown which would add another 300 – 400 people with even more development and densification proposed in the next 10 years, including the Kelson Group’s proposal for 500 residential units downtown.
Synergy with commercial development – the existing location of the Sagebrush Theatre does not add any complementary economic value as it is located in an almost exclusive residential neighbourhood. In some ways it is a stranded asset whose value is not properly leveraged because it doesn’t contribute to the vibrancy of the neighbourhood as it is not located in an area of Kamloops that desperately wants a nightlife, unlike the downtown. You can’t park, walk to a restaurant and then walk to the theatre in the current location nor would you be able to if the PAC were located at Henry Grube. The spin-off economic value is minimized at both the current location and the Henry Grube site.
A location downtown would also contribute to a more vibrant nightlife, support the existing restaurant industry and could also help with tourism and be a catalyst for more routinely filling the 300 – 400 hotel units downtown. It would also add value to the multi-family development downtown, the occupants of which might be willing to pay a premium to live near such a facility. It may also serve to make infill residential development even more attractive and thereby be a catalyst for the development of more of the vacant building lots in the core area.
Parking – many people have criticized the proposal by the Fawcetts suggesting that more parking needs to be provided. I think the 70 stalls probably suffices but it is worth looking into to confirm that. The reason 70 might work is that there is already existing parking in the downtown that is poorly utilized at night with 200 – 300 parking stalls within 3 – 4 blocks of the proposed location. Add into that the larger resident population in the downtown that won’t need parking as well as a smattering of people that might take transit, and 70 parking stalls might be justifiable. Conversely, if the PAC were to be developed at Henry Grube or any other location on the North Shore, there would be a need to develop many more parking stalls. The Henry Grube site would require all purpose-built parking that would be poorly utilized most times of the day. This would mean that a new facility would require at least 600 parking stalls if they are projecting seating capacity of 1500 people. If this were all surface parking, a parking lot of about 3.5 acres would be required which starts to eat into the riverfront land that could be used for redevelopment. Given that underground parking is not possible due to the Henry Grube Centre being located in the floodplain, an above ground parking structure would be needed, which would cost a lot of money and also occupy quite a bit of space.
Transportation Access – the downtown location is much more accessible than the Henry Grube site. If you have ever gone to an event at Henry Grube, whether it’s kid soccer or a meeting, you have likely seen how challenging it is to get in and out of the neighbourhood. The streets are narrow and a bit convoluted and there is only one signalized intersection with Fortune Drive which would likely to have priority for through traffic on Fortune meaning getting out of the neighbourhood could take a while. Sure, there could be some upgrades to improve this situation but these could be very costly.
Now if you want to appease the North Shore residents, invest in smaller arts-related infrastructure. Or outside of the arts, invest in the things that each of the neighbourhoods want – for instance, my neighbourhood would like more sidewalks, traffic calming, newer playground equipment and the refurbishment of the basketball courts in McDonald Park; Brock might like the Tranquille Road multi-use pathway; we’d all probably like one of our neighbourhood schools to reopen. Heck, move City Hall over to the North Shore – we’ll take it! Regardless, let’s invest wisely. The PAC is going to cost a lot of money, let’s do what we can to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits.