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Some councillors not happy Place des Arts seeking more in operating funds

Group asking for $260K a year, $60K more than original forecast
Construction is expected to begin soon on the $30 million Place des Arts, being built at the corner of Larch and Elgin streets. (File)

While approving a business case to be voted on during the 2019 budget, some members of city council aren't impressed the Place des Arts is already asking the city to increase the amount it will give each year in operating money.

Building of the $30 million arts centre is expected to begin soon, with construction funds in place, including $5 million from the city spread out over three years. 

The city is also donating the downtown land where the arts centre will be built, and Place des Arts is asking they not pay property tax. Initially, they asked for $200,000 in an annual operating grant, but this week, councillors learned the ask had grown to $260,000 a year after a review of their “operational needs.”

Ward 6 Coun. Rene Lapierre said the project is moving ahead smoothly, but they need to hire an executive director to ensure programming and events are in place for when the building is ready.

"They've been a very solid group, working with seven different organizations," Lapierre said. "Hopefully, in the next month or so, we'll see a shovel in the ground."

Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer said he had no issue approving the business case, but isn't sure why the amount has already increased.

"I'm not real keen on them coming back and asking for more money before the shovel is in the ground," Sizer said.

Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier said he's had enough of groups coming to council, cap in hand.

"I believe now that every single arts group in this community has come to this table looking for money," Montpellier said. "I sure like the arts, but now every single of them are saying they can't make it.

"I'm very disappointed in this whole deal."

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini said it was time to put the brakes on spending on arts projects when the city has roads and underground infrastructure in such poor shape.

"We have to go back to the necessities,” Vagnini said. “These are great projects, but they are luxuries."

Montpellier also questioned the forecast of the number of events the Place des Arts says it will host, along with the proposed convention centre and arena. Together, that's more than 1,000 events, or three a day, seven days a week.

"I think someone is fibbing," Montpellier said.

But Lapierre said, at least for Place des Arts, the 850 events they forecast each year includes everything – room rentals, classes, etc. So they're not saying they will have 850 shows a year.

"That's why that number looks that high," he said.

As for the increase in operating funds, Lapierre said it was only a request.

"They'll figure out how to make it work if they don't get it," he said.

And Ward 9 Coun. Fern Cormier said the approval only gave staff the authority to prepare a document, not spend money.

"This request is for a businesses case ... that will be dealt with by the next council," he said.

The resolution passed easily, with only Montpellier, Vagnini and Ward 4 Coun. Evelyn Dutrisac voting no.

In addition to the Place des Arts, councillors also got an update on the Junction. While the projects were previously combined, councillors were told that the art gallery and library were being broken up into one project, and the convention centre into another.

"So that at any time, if council wanted to proceed with one and not the other, that option will remain available," said Ian Wood, the city's director of economic development.

The architectural design RFP will be issued in the coming weeks, bringing the project closer to the "go, no go" stage, Wood said.