City to hire a consultant to help determine future of community and conference centre

"I'm not an expert on how conference centres should operate and I don't think my fellow councillors are either," said Coun. Kirk Oates

City council came out of a closed-door meeting last week with a plan to deal with the future of the Parksville Community and Conference Centre: hire a consultant.

Coun. Kirk Oates, the city’s liaison to the society that operates the centre, said Monday council passed two motions after its in-camera discussions on Thursday. One was to renew the operating agreement between the city and the society for one year. That agreement had expired on Dec. 31 and council balked on a staff recommendation in December for a multi-year renewal.

The other motion passed Thursday was to hire a consultant to give council a better idea what role(s) a centre like this should fill for the community and for what price. City taxpayers subsidize the PCCC to the tune of about $250,000/year, a figure that was slated to increase annually under the financial plan presented to council by the society in December.

“I’m not an expert on how conference centres should operate and I don’t think my fellow councillors are either,” Oates said Monday in a telephone interview from Edmonton. “So let’s bring in someone who is.”

Oates could not recall specific details about the motion related to the consultant (cost and any deadlines, for example), although he did say he believed the money committed was in the neighbourhood of $30,000. A city official said Monday cost and deadline options could be presented to council in a report in February.

Representatives of the society that operates the PCCC faced a tough line of questioning from council when they presented a budget and financial plan for approval last month. Council eventually passed the 2016 budget but did not renew the operating agreement until last week.

After appearing before council twice, society president Kirk Walper resigned.

“If there are changes to happen here, I’m not the one to spearhead it,” Walper told The NEWS after he resigned.

Both Oates and Walper have said there needs to be a better understanding by everyone, some clarity, regarding the centre’s mandate.

When he appeared before council last month, Walper spoke about the differences between a community centre model and a conference centre model, suggesting more focus on the latter to generate more revenue would squeeze non-profit community groups out of the centre.

Oates reiterated those comments on Monday.

“That itself is a big enough debate: what is it,” Oates said Monday.

The first-term city councillor also suggested the centre could do more to alleviate any public concerns about the budget.

“If that building was seen to be providing more activities and services to the public at large there would be less concerns about that budget number,” said Oates.

The society is “actively looking for people to fill the vacancies on the board,” Oates said.