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More community consultation needed on West Vancouver’s arts centre plans

The District of West Vancouver has taken a step back on its plans for an expansive new arts facility

The headline on this story has been amended since first posting to clarify that the arts centre project has not been paused by the District of West Vancouver but more community consultation is needed.  

Before any further decisions are made on where a new arts and culture centre might go in West Vancouver and what it will look like, more community consultation will have to take place.

The creation of a new multimillion-dollar arts centre in the District of West Vancouver, which has a thriving arts and culture scene but aging facilities, including the Silk Purse, the Music Box and the art museum, has been talked about for more than two decades by the district but has yet to come to fruition.

The latest hurdle being community awareness surrounding the project.

Council voted unanimously to allow staff more time for public engagement on arts facilities in general at the July 26 general meeting after the results of a community survey on two recommended locations in Ambleside Park for the envisioned “arts and culture hub” came back “inconclusive.”

Council set the wheels in motion for a new arts centre back in 2018 after a community engagement process highlighted a dire need for new arts facilities and they created an arts facilities advisory committee to take the lead on the matter – who later reviewed 20 potential sites for a new facility.

The two locations left on the table for the proposed 25,000-square-foot arts centre include the tennis courts site at Marine Drive and 13th Street and the south parking lot adjacent to the waterfront near Argyle Avenue. The estimated cost for either of the proposed facilities is $34-$38 million.

Donna Powers, director of community engagement and communications for the district, said during the consultation period and through an online survey, from May 18 to June 16, more than 2000 comments were provided and analyzed.

“There was a 50/50 split between participants who selected a site and those who do not support either option,” she said.

Powers said the comments highlighted three major themes to staff: firstly, “a general lack of awareness” of the project and its previous studies; secondly, a number of key concerns for residents including the perceived loss of waterfront parking, view corridors, disruption of recreation activities, and the impact that it would have on traffic congestion; and thirdly, that the community had many unanswered questions, including what the rationale was for a replacement facility, how a replacement facility would be funded and how it would be operated.

“These indicate a need for additional community engagement, and studies,” Powers said.

Up to 20 community members phoned in to comment, with the majority of callers expressing their passion for the arts and speaking in support of staff’s recommendations to keep the project going and to do more community consultations to achieve a facility that works well for all in the community. Some callers said initial consultations were inadequate, some made suggestions for a less “grandiose plan,” and others suggested taking Ambleside’s beachside areas as location options off the table.

After a lengthy discussion, council voted unanimously to approve staff’s recommendations to use $150,000 of $270,000 originally allocated from the COVID Safe Restart Grant to develop an additional community wide engagement program on next steps for arts and culture facilities, and for the development of a governance model and preliminary fundraising plan for the facility.

“This engagement would not focus on a site, but rather, it would engage the wider community on the current services that are provided, the state of the current facilities, and next steps for the community,” Powers explained.

While it means a lot of extra work, councillors were feeling positive about moving forward in this direction, saying it would help create an arts facility proposal that majority of the community may support, “not just 50/50.”

With concerns raised from the community surrounding finances, councillors and Mayor Mary-Ann Booth were of the belief it was something the district could figure out through a “creative funding model” which explored including commercial partnerships, sponsorships and private philanthropy.

Coun. Nora Gambioli said the residents needed to remember that a new project will consolidate and replace the current expenditures on three old deteriorating facilities “costing taxpayers a lot of money.”

“We are at a critical juncture where we have to make a decision, frankly, the decision has been put off for 20 years,” she said.

“This proposal, overall, I think, in the long run will promote community wellbeing for many, many people.”

Booth also noted it was important to listen to the people and “take the politics out of this” and “put our citizens to work and the best minds to work” in a “creative governance model” for the project

However, Booth was still in favour of the two site locations, saying she’d be talking about them and using them to “put a picture together for the community” of the cultural hub that would one day be a vibrant gathering place for all.

She said as the mayor, she would be “a champion” for this facility.

“I really believe in this,” she said. “I already have a vision, and I'm super excited about that.”

Elisia Seeber is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.