With the historic Penmar building now set to become a downtown winery, the society is going back to the drawing board for a downtown performing arts centre.
While the building has been sold, the Penmar society is still active and despite the setback are looking for new investment opportunities.
“There was a definite disappointment at first because we were hoping to restore that building as well as have a mid-size performance arts place. Since then we’ve actually had a couple investors come forward and say they would love to work with us to build something from the ground up. That just wasn’t an opportunity for us before as we were connected with Wildstone (construction),” said Penmar Society president Kerry Milton.
There are a few things still up in the air for the Penmar, like what to do with some of the purchased chairs and projectors and donated office equipment for example, as well as where the direction of the society is heading in the future. Board members are having a special general meeting at the Penticton Art Gallery on May 7 at 2:30 p.m. to answer some of those questions and vote on the future of the society.
“The reality is that if we do a new build we can still use the designs that Meiklejohn Architects did. Just finding a new location to put it. There are lots of positives to a new build than trying to convert an old building as well,” Milton said, though she added most members are keen on keeping the arts centre downtown.
Milton said the Penmar board had reached out to SOPAC members in the past, but the response was that the visions were too different.
“Their board feels like their vision is too far from the Penmar’s. So it was there board choosing to remain separate,” Milton said. “It came down to size more than anything. They want an orchestra pit and that kind of stuff.
“We feel overall the vision is the same. They want something bigger, but the Penmar Society feels like if you build a mid-size (venue), fill it to the rafters and show that there really is demand and allow it to grow into the SOPAC vision,” Milton said. “That’s always been our position and we’ve been happy to work with them.”
Jake Kimberley, SOPAC president, said their board is open to collaboration as they are poised to return to city council sometime in the future to once again propose that the property on the corner of Nanaimo Avenue and Ellis Street be under restrictive covenant — ensuring the public land will only be used for the performing arts centre.
However, with the sale of the former Penmar building, there may be more common ground to be found between the societies now.
“I think that would be our next approach to be honest with you,” Kimberley said. “I certainly want to bring them together on that, and that has been suggested between ourselves (SOPAC members) in emails, that maybe we can meet with them and discuss our objectives. What the Penmar group was trying to achieve was similar to what we’re trying to achieve.”
The restrictive covenant for the proposed 750-seat theatre was shot down by a 4-2 vote by city council in 2014.
“We’re still campaigning and trying to get the property under restrictive covenant, so that it’s not used for anything else,” said Kimberly, a former Penticton mayor.
Kimberley said an updated business plan was requested by council at the time, which is now complete.
“The fear that we have, and I should express it is a fear, is if that land were to be sold off for any other reason or any other use, which is public land by the way, there’s no other available site in the downtown core to accommodate a theatre,” Kimberley said. “We’re looking at taking that back to council and getting that restrictive covenant on there so the land can’t be taken and sold off for any other purpose other than the performing arts theatre.”
The next step, Kimberley said, is promotion and securing funding, possibly through some government grants, and working towards the objective of a first-class theatre in downtown Penticton.
“It’s a long-term process. It’s one that’s achievable in my opinion and one that would bring another amenity to the community that would bring our quality of life up because it would bring in audiences from as far as we’ve seen with the (South Okanagan) Events Centre,” Kimberly said.
While current city council has not voted on anything related to the SOPAC facility, Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said Kimberley had presented the protective covenant concept to them.
“We said if anything was happening with that parcel, since it’s public property, it would trigger a public hearing anyways, so it was sort of a moot point for them,” Jakubeit said.
Jakubeit said the Penmar campaign had an effect on how things were proceeding as well.
“With the Penmar trying to create something everyone was sort of in a hold pattern, seeing how that was going to shape up. Now with the development of the Penmar being sold, perhaps there might be some renewed interest with SOPAC. There’s obviously interest with the Penmar group to still keep the dream alive,” Jakubeit said. “Until we get formally approached on options, we’ll remain to be open to any community group wanting to come and trade a community asset and we’ll deal with it when it comes in front of us.”