Performing Arts Center Gets the Green Light
By Laura Mooney, Arts Editor
At the city council meeting on 18 November 2013, Ken Kilcullen, chairman of the Performing Arts Center project, approached city hall council members and mayor Shari Green once again to plead his case to finally get the Arts Center project up and off the ground, with greater success this time. Kilcullen’s plan was not to bluntly state that the project should begin to be built immediately, but instead more modestly asked for the council to declare that “The Prince George Regional Performing Arts Center as the city’s priority capital project and to instruct city administration staff to refine the project’s budget and establish a timeline towards construction.”
The Performing Arts Center, a project that has been on the minds of many since 2001 when it was first recognized as a need for the city, would boast a huge space of nearly 68000 square feet, taking up one entire city block and making it the largest project in the downtown area. It would feature 800 seats in the primary theatre, 250 seat flex space theatre, and a multipurpose space. One of the main stereotypes that have swirled around the project is that it would only bring in symphonies and high art performances, a rumor that was brought up by Councilor Garth Frizzell, who wondered if the average person in Prince George would benefit from such a building. Kilcullen aptly replied that while the center would have performances such as these, it would also house many other events such as comedy tours, music festivals, and even weddings. It was also stated that while the city has more than enough facilities to house other type of recreation, such as sports and plays, the Performing Arts Center was the one piece missing from Prince George’s cultural facilities. The project has been on everyone’s minds for so long, it was just simply time for city council to step up and take over the reins of the project.
Nevertheless, while Mayor Shari Green brought up that “this is the project I would like to see the city next take on” the main issue will always be funding. The center, which would cost a whopping $42.5 million, is subject to the harsh reality that, in general, cities do not spend funds on recreational projects such as the Performing Arts Center, and instead put the money towards city repairs and things deemed more important. Although the Center’s request for funding through the Canada P3 fund (a type of government fund) was unsuccessful, Kilcullen stated that their hopes were that the Canada Economic Action Plan, along with funding from the provincial government, who had expressed interest in the project, would contribute to making the Arts Center possible.
In general however, the council decided that it was about time that the Performing Arts Center became a serious priority for the city, and, if asked of them, the funding would be found. While there are still many important aspects which need to be discussed, such as the location of the building and the issue of this new center taking away some of the city’s dedication to other art centers such as the Playhouse, Councilor Albert Koehler brought up a very important point; the arts community used to be fragmented, but now we see places such as the Playhouse and the Symphony Orchestra working together for the first time. This shows that the arts are becoming more of a single, large entity in our community rather than being multiple small sections, showing that the community is growing and that the city must accommodate for that growth. In the end, to much applause from the attending crowd, it was unanimously decided that the Performing Arts Center would become a primary capital project for the city of Prince George.
While this is only the beginning for the Performing Arts Center project, it is still a huge win for Kilcullen and all those who have been involved since the project first came around in 2001. To finally have the support of the city council means that so much more can now be done in preparation for the building of the project to actually begin. While the timeline proposed to city hall by Kilcullen stated that, preferably, construction would begin in 2015 with the opening season in 2016, whether that timeline will remain intact is up to city council now. However, what about the approval of the residents? Councilor Dave Wilbur stated that while the project may have the support of the council, it will never have the complete support of the residents of Prince George. The majority of the residents are not in favour of the Arts Center being constructed, as shown in a poll a couple years ago, and one can expect that not many of them have changed their minds. But as Kilcullen stated, the center will not be holding strictly high art performances, but will be a venue for all sorts of entertainment that have not been able to come to Prince George before simply because the city lacked the appropriate housing. It would also be a huge source of revenue for the city, as well as provide multiple jobs for residents. One of the main points that Kilcullen made was that a similar Arts Center was built in Vernon, and the city now proclaims it to be one of the best, and most prosperous buildings, they ever constructed.
So even if not everyone in the city is showing support for the construction of the Performing Arts Center, the important thing was getting council on board, which has finally occurred. It looks as though the center will be a huge benefit to the city of Prince George, and will allow for many new opportunities to draw in acts and performances the city has not been able to host before. Only time will tell when this project will actually be able to break ground, but the support received will only benefit this project, and will allow Prince George to finally expand its ever growing culture.