Show will go on at Nanaimo Centre Stage

NANAIMO – Council approves $160,000 renovation, but stops short of committing full $800,000.

The show will go on at Nanaimo Centre Stage, at least for now.

City council voted Monday to invest $160,000 in the 116-year-old building to replace stucco and brick veneer on the Nicol Street side of the building.

The condition of the building’s exterior, including peeling exterior walls and a decrepit brick chimney, has many worried about the safety of people using the entranceway.

Council considered two other options presented by city staff – do nothing despite the deterioration, or install walk-through scaffolding for two years to protect pedestrians at a cost of about $20,000.

In a 6-3 vote (Councillors Bill McKay, Bill Bestwick and Jim Kipp voted against), council agreed to renovate its cultural asset, but stopped short of committing $800,000 over five years, the cost determined by an engineer to completely revitalize the building’s exterior.

“Option one is simply not viable, and having scaffolding on Nicol Street for two years is also not an acceptable solution,” said Coun. Fred Pattje. “Option three, as difficult and expensive as it is, and staff’s suggestion that it’s a first step in remediation, I’m not looking at it that way … I don’t think we have to commit the entire $800,000 because there are options like fundraising that can be considered.”

The city purchased the building at 25 Victoria Rd. in 2008 for $460,000 for the purpose of providing a small performing arts theatre in the downtown area.

The Centre of the Arts Society currently operates Nanaimo Centre Stage under a licence of use agreement with the city.

The venue has seen increased usage over the past few years with up to 30 arts and culture groups using it annually. The Nob Hill and South End community associations also support the theatre.

Aaramë Robillard, manager for the Centre of the Arts Society, said the investment is a good one for the city.

“Obviously we’re happy council has taken the first step in making the necessary repairs and I think it’s a good investment for the city’s asset and also for the cultural community,” said Robillard, adding that if Nanaimo Centre Stage was not available, there isn’t another venue like it in the city. “There isn’t another theatre of our size that offers the amenities that we do.”

Installing unsightly scaffolding on Nicol Street for two years also turned several councillors off the second option.

Bestwick warned, however, that beginning renovations could lead to a higher bill for taxpayers if more work is discovered once renovations begin.

“The $160,000 is just for the one section of exterior work,” he said. “Option two gives us the time to do the minimum amount of work required.”

McKay said he felt the original purchase of the building was a bad investment, and spending any more money on it “is just throwing good money after bad”, while Kipp said he can’t support work with an expensive bill attached that is only a guess.

“It’s a great little theatre but I don’t want to turn it into a [financial] black hole,” said Kipp.

The discussion comes at a time when the city is undergoing a revision of its 2008 cultural plan as part of the corporate strategic plan initiative. In the plan, culture was deemed one of the four pillars of the community.

“Our mandate as owners of the building is to maintain our assets to the best of our ability, “said Coun. Diana Johnstone, who also sits as chairwoman of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Culture Commission.