Qualicum Beach council members had plenty of positive things to say about the idea of a multi-use cinema in town during a presentation at the committee of the whole meeting on Jan. 10.
But it looks like the Qualicum Beach Multi-Use Cinema Society will have to wait a while longer to secure the commitment of 10,000 square feet it was looking for. Jack Wilson, president of the society, made a presentation to the committee of the whole during which he explained that the society feels it needs commitment of actual space to effectively raise funds.
“We want to say to potential donors, or on grant applications, that we have the support of the town to the extent that they have set aside 10,000 square feet of their property in downtown Qualicum Beach. So that’s the reason we’re here this morning.”
The society’s vision, Wilson said, is to fund the building of a community-owned arts venue on Memorial Avenue at the old bus garage property. The society would see a “carefully curated” program of movies played (from feature films to classics, international films, documentaries and others) as well as have the cinema serve as a performance space for musical or dance performances as well as talks.
The venue would not compete with The Village Theatre, said Wilson.
They also envision a cafe and wine bar off the main lobby.
Having made a presentation to the last council’s committee of the whole, the cinema group received a letter pledging the town’s support for the proposal but not allocating any land, preferring first to develop a “comprehensive site plan” for the entire old bus garage site.
“Somehow, we accepted a challenge to do our own site plan,” said Wilson, showing a plan that included an open square on the corner (which he said the society understood the town wanted), relocating parking to the rear of the property, and dividing up the other sections of the property into leasable building space that could be used a variety of ways.
Though Wilson stressed that “our site plan just concentrates on what we envision for our purpose.”
Wilson said much of the specifics of their proposal rests on getting the land set aside so that the society can raise funds, hire an architect and find out how much the building might cost, and get a firm financial plan going. The society expects a combination of paid staff and volunteers would run the venue, with the operation paid for by proceeds.
While all members of council voiced their support for a facility that would bring movies to the town, and a venue for other arts, culture and education events, they brought up several concerns ranging from the location to parking to the financial plan, as well as negotiations currently going on with School District 69 to acquire the adjacent land (presumably where the former school, now the Qualicum Commons, currently is).
“I’m very supportive of the project,” said Mayor Brian Wiese.
“I think it’s important that we have this facility downtown, and I don’t disagree with you Jack that it should be most likely on Memorial. But I do understand there is a bigger picture which we’ve all discussed what that block is going to look like and how it fits into our strategic plan moving forward.”
Coun. Teunis Westbroek, after a comment from a member of the public, noted a deal with Qualicum Foods providing a certain number of parking spaces at the location.
The town’s director of planning, Luke Sales, noted council does not have to feel constrained by trying to retain all of the parking that is there currently.
Coun. Adam Walker nonetheless noted that, as those spaces are often full throughout the day, providing space for those cars would remain an issue to consider. “If we take away those spaces, it will have a tremendous negative impact on the businesses in this community. That’s my opinion.”
He agreed, however, that having a parking lot be one of the first things people see as they enter town is a “complete disaster.”
In response to councillors’ repeated comments about needing a plan for the site as a whole (including the school land) before going ahead, he said, “We took 23 years… to get the land of the school bus property. So if you’re waiting for the school board to deal with the rest of the property, this won’t happen in my lifetime.
“I think the town needs to take initiative and say we’re going to go ahead with this piece of the puzzle… and this fills in a big piece.”
Ultimately, the committee of the whole voted to support a motion moved by Westbroek that “the committee of the whole recommends to council that staff be instructed to include the Qualicum Beach Multi-Use Cinema Society proposal for council consideration when the draft strategic plan is reviewed at an upcoming committee of the whole meeting.”
The only vote opposed was from Walker.