A former town councillor is questioning council’s decision to dedicate a downtown building to develop an arts centre for the community.
John Kende appeared in front of council last week to question its decision to approve a motion dedicating the library building to an arts centre once the former moves into the Multiplex.
Council passed a motion earlier this fall that dedicates the building and proposes $50,000 in the budget for a committee to be established to explore the establishment of a non-profit group with an independent volunteer board to run an arts centre and oversee planning and development of the facility.
“I have a problem with that and I hope council can tell me why they used the word dedicate,” Kende said prior to the meeting. “There is a difference between using or allowing a use of a public asset and dedicating it.”
He questioned whether the public realizes the road it is going down with the process and if the public consultation process was adequate.
“I think the public consultation in this instance may not have served its purpose,” Kende said. “When we are talking about such a large item as the usage and dedication of a public asset… to ask people’s opinion at the farmer’s market or before swimming on two or three occasions, that is not by any imagination a public consultation.”
A task force established earlier this year held consultations throughout the summer on the concept of putting an arts centre in the building at several Mountain Markets, the Rec Centre and through an online survey for the arts community.
Mayor Ron Casey said council has taken the lead in redesignating the use of the building in light of the fact both the Canmore Public Library and the Canmore Artists and Artisans Guild gallery are moving to the Multiplex next fall.
“We could have done any of 50 things (with that building),” said the mayor. “At the next stage, when it becomes more clear and there will be a more broad group, there will be more consultation.”
As a public asset, Kende said, he would prefer the Town undertake a process to advertise the building as vacant and invite proposals. However, he would also like to see those proposals include development of the entire block of publicly-owned land right in the middle of downtown.
The Town owns all of Ninth Street in the downtown area, from the Senior’s Centre to Friendship Park, the Civic Centre, Tourism Canmore Kananaskis visitor information centre, public parking and the current library.
He said use of the building should be taken in the context of the downtown enhancement plan from 1998 to advise development of the town centre.
“The time is now to plan this, not when the boom comes back or the economy turns around,” he said, adding by dedicating the building through its motion the community may miss out on a chance to plan a unique concept for the downtown.
“I am for any group or society to occupy this building temporarily without it being dedicated,” he said. “If we dedicate this building, there is no council that will have the political will ever again to move this group out of the building.”
The municipality still owes $1.4 million on the building, which it purchased from the provincial government when it divested from selling alcohol and sold liquor store properties in 1993.
The annual payment amounts to $136,213 or $11,000 a month. Kende pointed to the motion of council that any group to arise from the task force work be financially sustainable.
“Are they ready to pay that annual amount of $136,213, or else it is the taxpayers who are the ones financing it?” he asked.
Casey said no group has been established or process to get into the details of establishing an arts development centre and said the choice will be for council down the road.
“I think we looked at the structure and said it has life left in it,” he added.