City to fund Port Theatre expansion

Nanaimo city council has agreed to spend $4.6M on the Port Theatre's community performing arts centre.

The City of Nanaimo will chip in $4.6 million for a new community performing arts centre.

Nanaimo city councillors voted 8-1 Monday to partner with the Port Theatre Society on building a multimillion-dollar performing arts facility. Plans for a four-level and 19,000-square-foot performing arts centre were shelved in 2009 after the Port Theatre Society was denied $7.8 million from senior levels of government, but have been revived this year. Theatre manager Bruce Halliday says the time is right to try again. There’s corporate interest in naming rights, the potential for federal dollars and more energy in the Harbour City around arts and culture than ever before, he said.

An in-house survey done by the Port Theatre Society also shows 82 per cent of respondents support building the proposed $12-million centre, which Halliday says would be more suited to smaller events than the current 800-seat theatre.

Under the new partnership, the city has agreed to co-sign for a $2-million line of credit and contribute $4.6 million to the initiative. The money will be contingent on the Port Theatre Society raising the remaining $8 million for the facility, and the city will seek grants to help offset the cost.

“I think that the City of Nanaimo is ready now to do this project and I really don’t want to see this item on an agenda 15 years hence with a city council debating whether or not we support a performing arts centre for Nanaimo,” said Coun. Diane Brennan, who voted in support of the partnership.

Coun. Fred Pattje, who made the motion, called the financial contribution a chance for the city to put its money where its mouth is after completing a strategic and cultural plan, while Coun. George Anderson called it “a step forward in our cultural  aspirations.”

Coun. Bill McKay opposed the motion, saying he’d feel better if it was done with the blessing of the entire community.

The project saw public consultation last spring. The city’s planned contribution will make the theatre expansion a priority in the funding application efforts, along with the foot ferry proposal.