Fundraising now key to Greater Vernon Cultural Centre

With referendum passed, $15 million needs to be raised as part of proposed Greater Vernon project

The first hurdle has been cleared.

Now that Greater Vernon voters have given their consent to borrowing up to $25 million, there’s still plenty of work to be done before building can even begin on a new cultural centre in downtown Vernon.

Residents of Vernon, Coldstream and Regional District of North Okanagan Electoral Areas B (BX-Swan Lake) and C (BX-Silver Star) were asked in Saturday’s municipal election if they approved the RDNO borrowing up to $25 million for the proposed $40 million project. The cultural centre would be located in downtown Vernon on the former Coldstream Hotel site, and would house the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives and Vernon Public Art Gallery as its two main tenants.

The referendum passed in all four jurisdictions by a margin of 7,850-5,357 (City of Vernon: 5,445 Yes, 3,797 No; District of Coldstream: 1,590 Yes, 1,000 No; Electoral Areas B and C: 815 Yes, 560 No).

“The upshot is, we still face a bit of a public relations challenge because when people vote for something and it passes, there’s a thought that we’ll start building tomorrow,” said Bob Fleming, Area B director and the last sitting RDNO board chairperson, who was re-elected Saturday.

“Obviously, that’s not quite the case here. The referendum was for borrowing up to $25 million of a proposed $40 million project, so fundraising will take care of $15 million, and it won’t be just advocates and supporters of the arts trying to raise the money. It would be a collective effort and staff would be leading that.”

The RDNO will be applying for senior government grants, federal and provincial, that support the arts and work on that will begin right away.

“I believe there are some grants available immediately but I don’t know when the cut-off dates are,” said Fleming. “Staff will be working hard to meet those dates if there are federal and provincial granting programs that we qualify for.”

Fleming recalled the Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre referendum at the turn of the century, where his aunt, Marie Fleming, helped lead fundraising efforts after the voters passed building a new centre.

Nearly $2 million was raised but money there, said Fleming, did not go to construction. Instead a legacy fund was created which continues to be used for VPAC projects. In the case of the cultural centre, he said, funds raised will go toward designing and building the facility.

“The design, at the moment, is only a concept, it’s not an actual design so there could be changes and adjustments there,” said Fleming.

If RDNO can’t raise the $15 million, there will be no building.

“When you go to the municipal finance authority for borrowing, once approved and you’ve registered your result, you have five years before you have to borrow the money,” said Fleming. “At the end of five years, the borrowing permission disappears. The goal would be to borrow the money before the deadline but some of that is contingent on what’s being raised.”

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