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Prince George still waiting on downtown arts strategy

Council denies $5k request for Knox Bell Performance Space
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Trinity Downtown is formerly known as Knox United.

Prince George city council has put another community arts ask on the back burner as it waits for a city-wide comprehensive arts strategy.

Sean Farrell, executive director of the Community Arts Council of Prince George & District (CAC) and Rev. Bob Rev. Bob Fillier with Trinity United Church present at the Oct. 18 city council meeting about their plan to turn one of the city’s historic churches into a live music and events venue.

The concert hall would be known as the Knox Bell Performance Space and be located downtown at the former Knox United Church which is the oldest Protestant church in the city and renowned for historical importance and architecture.

The two organizations are currently seeking funding for a feasibility study to assist with the planning project for revitalizing the space. 

It will include a review of design, engineering and architectural options, programming streams, conceptual plans for redesign, capital improvement budgets, and management structures.

“I think a feasibility study in name is a little bit misleading,” explained Farrell, “The feasibility study will result in a plan […] which is the basis for actual construction plans, engineering plans, fundraising plans etc.”

Farrell explained the group has applied for a $20,000 grant from the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund and applied for $10,000 from the Prince George Community Foundation and received a $5,000 grant from the National United Church of Canada.

The group then asked council to contribute $5,000 toward the project.

“We are coming to you for the last piece of the funding puzzle,” said Farrell. “One of the things that excites us most at the CAC about this specific location is that the main part of the building is no longer a place of worship. We have access, once we turn this into a performance space, seven days a week and 365 days a year with no potential programming inhibitions.”

During the Oct. 4 council meeting, a delegation from St. Michael’s All Angel’s Church asked council for a $50,000 grant for 300 linkable chairs to transform that space into a multi-purpose concert venue.

However, council denied the request as it’s waiting to first review an upcoming city-wide comprehensive arts strategy.

“I mentioned in the last meeting when we had the delegation asking for funding for the chairs, for a similar but different space, my thoughts at the time was that I want to get away from piecemeal arts in our community,” explained Coun. Kyle Sampson.  “I don’t want the feasibility study to double down on work that is already being done on the arts strategy.”

He added that he recognized the significant difference between the two requests but wanted to see the completed strategy before making a decision.

“It is a very small ask and I’m very excited for the project. I’m too hoping the study will come back soon and we can see how all of these things mesh with the overall strategy,” added Coun. Murry Krause.

Council then passed a motion to refer the matter to administration to be included in the arts strategy.

“This hasn’t gone off into the either at all,” said Mayor Lyn Hall to the presenters.  “Administration will get back to you once that strategy has been developed.”

Chris Bone, the city’s manager of strategic initiatives explained the downtown arts strategy is ready in draft form.

“The consultant made a really clear comment in the final draft that the recommendations needed to be revisited post-COVID and more importantly the observation that none of the recommendations had public consultation, was critical to the downtown arts strategy.”

She said staff did not want to deliver a strategy that hasn’t been tested publicly and that still needs to fit within an overall vision and strategy for the downtown.

“We could certainly bring back the draft in its current state for council’s information as long as those two considerations were well known to council,” said Bone.

“When we have the opportunity to bring the draft strategy back to council we can point out some of the content that I would say probably needs some more investigation post COVID.”

Bone said the draft version of the arts strategy will make its way to back to council for review before the New Year.