TNRD mulls $100k contribution to the Nicola Valley Theatre Society

By on June 16, 2017
An artist's rendition of what the proposed Nicola Valley Community Theatre performing-arts centre would look like. Plans for the project in Merritt include a 274-seat performing-arts theatre and three 103-seat movie theatres. (Photo courtesy of the Nicola Valley Community Theatre Society).

by Adam Williams

Will Merritt succeed where Kamloops failed?

If the Nicola Valley Community Theatre Society has its way, the community 45 minutes south of Kamloops will soon be home to a performing-arts centre.

“The downtown core is stagnant and in need of revitalization,” said Rich Hodson, the director of the not-for-profit society championing the centre in Merritt. “If you go downtown at 5 p.m., nothing is open. There are no cars parked on the streets.”

Presenting to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board on Thursday afternoon, Hodson said the centre’s construction would be a boon to Merritt, which has been hit hard by changes in the forestry industry.

A reduction in the annual-allowable cut and the closure of the Tolko sawmill have meant the loss of a number of jobs in the town. Hodson estimated that 25 per cent of the community’s income is forestry dependent.

He said the centre would help to diversity the economy.

The price tag for the project is a little more than $5.3 million, $3.7 million of which the Nicola Valley Theatre Society hopes to get from the province’s Rural Dividend Fund as a result of the Tolko mill closure. The fund is a provincial initiative providing $25 million a year for a total of four years to assist rural communities with a population of 25,000 or less to reinvigorate and diversify their local economies.

“If that lands, it’s a done deal,” Hodson said. “We’re going ahead.”

On Thursday, he asked the TNRD for $100,000 to help fund engineering work for the project. The society has already collected a $100,000 grant from the Rural Dividend Fund and $25,000 from the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust for architectural work. It also has $267,000 in cash and commitments.

Plans for the project include a 274-seat performing-arts theatre and three 103-seat movie theatres. The society has support from its 600 members, the City of Merritt and 55 other organizations, communities and surrounding First Nations bands. It also owns a 14,000-square-foot site next to the Save-On-Foods store in downtown Merritt, where it would build the centre.

“These are the kind of chicken and egg things we need to consider to create a sustainable community,” said TNRD director Randy Murray, who motioned a letter of support be written for the society, which was approved unanimously by the board.

But not all directors were as enamoured by the proposal.

“It’s very exciting, but the City of Kamloops [voters] turned down a performing-arts centre and the city contributes 50 per cent of the funding to the TNRD,” said Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine. “We have to be very careful. . . . There are some issues around the table we have to wrestle with.”

The TNRD will vote on the request for $100,000 in funding at a later meeting. It is also considering the possibility of providing the society with gas tax funding to pay for aspects of the project.

Hodson said the performing-arts theatre would be funded by revenue from the three movie theatres, which would ideally screen first-run movies.

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