Arts Centre – How Much Will it Cost?

Judy Chalmers writes:-

How much will the arts facility in West Van cost taxpayers? No one knows
Nowhere did I read the obvious question: Do you want and are you willing to pay for a new Arts and Culture Facility that will house a Community Arts and Culture Center and an Art Museum?

That is indeed the million dollar question, or can we say it is approximately $38 Million in 2019 dollars.
Well, the answer is simple. Nobody knows.
This month, District of West Vancouver will be conducting public engagement with the Arts Facility Advisory Committee on the preferred site location.

There will be two choices given and both are at Ambleside Park. One will be at the location of the tennis courts, and the other will be south of the train tracks taking over the main parking lot. Both sites are on publicly owned land. A privately owned location was taken out of the mix by a unanimous vote of Council at the April 12 council meeting.

The private location, the entire 1400 block north of Marine Drive, was deemed too much even though there would have been no financial cost to the district.

We are assured that if the site that is chosen is the tennis courts, the courts will be relocated elsewhere in Ambleside Park. All parking at either site that is displaced will be replaced plus parking that will be needed for the facility. At most, the building would be no higher than 2 storeys. There would be additional height added to the land to offset future sea-level rise.
Those are three assurances that have been given or stated in the AFAC Site Identification report. Be assured also, it will cost taxpayers to build, operate, and maintain. But more on that shortly….

So how did we get to this point, and was there ever any public consultation with the entire community to agree to this?
In my reading of three reports, the Facility Needs Assessment final report dated February 6, 2018, the Research Summary and SOAR Assessment report dated October 4, 2017, the Arts and Culture Strategy ( 2018-2023 ) that answer is not black and white.

Nowhere did I read the obvious question: Do you want and are you willing to pay for a new Arts and Culture Facility that will house a Community Arts and Culture Center and an Art Museum? And nowhere in those three reports did I find that a price tag was ever attached.

In 2017, public engagement took place on a Facilities Needs Assessment. It was an important component of the Arts and Culture Strategy that began in late 2016 to review current facilities and make recommendations for future facilities. A survey was developed to gather information on current and future needs of arts and culture facilities in West Vancouver. The purpose of the survey was to provide residents with an opportunity to ‘provide their thoughts.’

From the community survey one of the facility specific themes that had 49 mentions ( 34% ) was ‘Need some large and multi-arts facility.’
From the intercept survey one of the facility specific themes that had 37 mentions ( 56% ) was ‘ No facilities needed- things are fine as they are.’

From the survey of Arts Organizations, the majority ( 66% ) felt that ‘new and/or improved facilities are essential or highly desirable to the continuing growth and development of their enterprises.’

One of the recommendations from the Facility Needs Assessment was ‘to undertake a feasibility study for a new multi-use arts and culture center, including size, potential, location, governance structure, anticipated use by community groups , programmatic elements, operating funding and business plan. District residents have re-confirmed a desire for a purpose-built Arts and Culture Center, likely in Ambleside, incorporating exhibition and gallery space as well as a small performance space and community meeting rooms.’

The Research Summary and Soar Assessment (October 4, 2017 ) was a summary of the community consultation process and ‘what we heard’.
‘Very different visions of facility needs in the community were expressed through consultations. Differing visions related to the size, focus and locations of any new facility.’

Summary Survey Results stated that ‘58% of all respondents disagree that there are sufficient facilities and spaces for arts and culture activities in the District.’

At a DWV Council meeting on June 25, 2018 , the Arts and Culture Strategy 2018-2023 was approved. A sub-committee was to be established to complete a comprehensive Arts and Culture Facilities Plan for Council approval. The Arts Facility Advisory Committee ( AFAC ) was formed in July 2018. The Arts and Culture Facilities Plan was completed in June 2019. It was to analyze existing programs and facilities, and assess the requirements for a new facility.

One of its recommendations was to build a new facility to replace existing, and deteriorating buildings. ( Art Museum, Silk Purse, Music Box )

At the June 24, 2019, Council meeting, Council directed staff to proceed with a site identification and feasibility analysis for two development options. Option 1 was two separate buildings with a total of 25,000 square feet, and Option 2 was one combined building of 21,000 square feet.
The AFAC along with Cornerstone Consultants reviewed 12 District owned sites and 7 privately owned sites, and through a series of prioritization and ranking exercises identified the most suitable locations for an arts facility development.

On November 20, 2019 a public information session was held to update the community on the process to date.
It was determined that the two site option ( Option 1 ) would be significantly more expensive in terms of capital, maintenance, and operational costs.

At the March 9 council meeting last year, District owned sites and two privately owned sites were given the go-ahead to go to public consultation for a site selection.

The two privately owned sites are now not included.
So, what do we know about funding for what is to be called the Arts and Culture Center? Some of what was stated in the March 9, 2020 report to Council was :

-The financial implications of decisions around ultimately building an arts facility are significant in terms of capital costs, annualized asset maintenance costs, and ongoing operating costs.
-Building on District owned lands means that the District provides the land and must also have the cash resources on hand for the total cost of the project to completion.
Possible Funding Strategies were discussed in the report. Some were:
-Philanthropic Community Contributions
-Fundraising or other external contributions from donations, fundraising drives or events, sponsorships, and naming.
-Grants
District contributions were discussed:
-Community Amenity Contributions
-Lands Fund
-Borrowing: the report stated that if Council and the community would be willing to support raising taxes to pay for an arts facility, borrowing could be used to provide the entire amount needed. A debt levy of 2.57% would need to be added to base taxation for 30 years for a loan of $39.2 M.
It is also estimated that annual operating and maintenance costs would be $1.2M.

In the report a proposed next-steps chart is mentioned- 8 steps from site identification analysis to facility construction. It states that a funding strategy will be updated at every stage of the development. We must assume then that we will be told by the District the costs, the amount of money raised or needed at each step of this process.

The global COVID-19 pandemic delayed the planning process for the Arts Center, but now, Mayor Booth has stated that she “is pleased to let us know that the planning for this important project is back on track.”
Those who have lost their jobs, hurt financially, lost their business, their livelihood, or are on the brink of losing what they have worked so hard for as a result of the pandemic, and they may not be so pleased.

Yes, the Federal and Provincial governments have spent billions of dollars to help individuals and businesses during this pandemic, but we know we will need to dig deeper into our pockets to pay off the burden of this debt.
A new Arts Center is #1 of three Major Project Priorities of this Councils Strategic Goals. It will be their legacy, good or bad.
So, what is the answer to the question of how much the Arts Facility is going to costs taxpayers? We simply do not know.

Mayor Booth, at the April 12, 2021 Council meeting, said , “ I’m still hopeful that we can build this with very little taxpayer contributions.”
Hopeful, and it is my view that the taxpayers are entitled to more assurances than ‘hopeful.’

Judy Chalmers is a resident of West Vancouver