Memorial supporters like idea, question the funding
Supporters of the Memorial Arena are thrilled the long-empty facility is once again being discussed at city council. They just wonder who is going to come up with the money to get someone into the building.
Coun. Egerton Boyce asked staff to look into what could be done to encourage local arts groups to come together in the Memorial to turn it into an arts and culture centre for the community at Monday’s city council meeting.
Boyce said with the next phase of downtown redevelopment focussing on the streets near the Memorial, now is the time to start looking at putting something in the building, which has been empty since 2011.
“This would certainly encapsulate the idea of rejuvenating the downtown,” he said. “I want to challenge the arts community locally to come together and come forward with a sustainable business plan for using the Memorial.”
Boyce said he envisioned a situation like Queen Mary School where a number of groups came together to share the burden.
He acknowledged the city would have to put forward some money, but if many groups shared the cost it would be doable.
“It has been quite successful,” he said about Queen Mary School. “I would certainly be willing to entertain the idea if the arts community came forward with a sustainable business plan.
The problem, though, is money, says the director of the Quinte Arts Council, in particular the fact the Memorial costs a lot and arts groups don’t have much.
Carol Feeney, who said Boyce’s proposal “came out of left field,” said the arts community has been looking at the Memorial for years, but has never seen a plan that makes it the least bit affordable.
“From what we have been told, it will cost about $200,000 a year to run the building,” she said. “So yes we think it’s a great idea and it’s worth exploring, but at the end of the day it has to be affordable.
“I think a downtown cultural hub is a great idea. But I get the feeling we are going to have issues coming up with a plan that works.”
Tanya Baldwin of the Memorial Regional Collective says every conversation about using the arena seems to start and end with money.
Her group has been working for years to put together a coalition of organizations to use the building, but has never been able to find a suitable long-term funding source.
She said her group’s studies show the building needs “bare-bones” $5 million in upgrades, which realistically could go as high as $13 million without doing much more than the essentials.
“Without the financial support in place, no one is going to touch it,” she said. “The funding is critical to any talk on anything going into that building.
“I am thrilled to hear the words come out of his mouth. The arena needs a champion on council to make something happen.”
Both Feeney and Baldwin stress the city could use a major arts and culture hub in the downtown. They also point out such a facility would return a significant financial as well as cultural benefit to the community.
Feeney said studies show municipalities get a conservative five dollars return for every dollar invested in the arts, while Baldwin said a more realistic number would be 10 times a return, in some cases as high as 20.
“Studies show that the economic impact of investments in arts is actually higher that with sports and recreation,” Baldwin said. “I’m not saying we need to take it away from sports, but I am saying the return on investment for arts support is significant.
“There are many ripples to creating a cultural centre where people can come together in the community. I am thrilled we are again talking about the Memorial being that place.”
Feeney agreed, saying any support for the arts can only have wide-spread benefits for the community.
“Certainly if this becomes a regional centre, that makes it even more attractive,” she said. “Right now if you look at it, the arena is surrounded by a lot of groups who would love to come together.
“But these groups are all worried about money. It’s hard to be creative when you are worried all the time about keeping the wolf off your back door.”
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