Selling the fire hall now would be a mistake
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
“Life is short, but Art is long.”
You know who said that? Hippocrates, the ancient Greek philosopher in one of his celebrated aphorisms uttered more than 2,000 years ago, which goes to show that the artistic sensibility has been part of the human genome for a long time except for some of the genomes currently sitting at the Cranbrook City Council table.
And that’s truly sad.
It’s especially sad because we may lose yet another opportunity to revitalize our fading downtown by converting the city’s historic 1929 fire hall into a combination art gallery and cultural emporium that would be the envy of the Kootenays and put Cranbrook back on the cultural map where it belongs.
This is not an idle dream. The Cranbrook District Arts Council has been working towards this for years. They have raised money, drawn up plans and engaged the community with just under 70 per cent of the community backing their efforts according to a poll in the Cranbrook Townsman this week. Despite this, Mayor Lee Pratt has criticized the proposal from the get-go and indicates he would rather see the historic structure sold off to the private sector and money gained from the sale used to patch pot holes or other similar imaginative attempts to repair the city’s deteriorating infrastructure.
But the mayor is wrong. This not an either/or situation. The City has had potholes for 50 years and will have them for the next 50. That’s the way it is with pot holes. We all know that. What we don’t have is an arts centre befitting our city’s population and stature. But we do have a civic-minded group that’s working their buns off to show how such a facility could be developed in the future if we all get behind it.
We did it with the Studio Stage Door, which an earlier council wanted to turn into a parking lot. Now we regularly enjoy some of the best amateur theatre in the province. Last week we enjoyed an incredible concert featuring one of the biggest rock bands of the 60’s. Why? Because the council of the day had the foresight to partner with the school district to build the Key City Theatre and I feel sorry for you if you missed Eric Burdon and the Animals. Two years ago, our little burg drew Bob Dylan to town for a sold out concert of more than 4,000. Why? Because another earlier council dreamed big and fought a difficult referendum campaign to build Western Financial Place which continues to draw big acts from country music stars to monster trucks.
Those earlier politicians had their critics too, but they showed imagination, vision and leadership and today Cranbrook is a better place for it.
So what now? A motion to sell the fire hall to the private sector has already been pulled from the agenda at the last minute indicating uncertainty in council chambers over the controversial sale. Two councillors have criticized the sale and one recused himself from the table when the issue came up at a recent meeting of CBT’s Community Initiatives Committee, indicating more uncertainty and concern. The public is being left in the dark while rumours swirl. And what’s the hurry to sell one of the few heritage buildings the City has left when so many are against the sale and you have an enthusiastic volunteer group waiting in the wings to repurpose the building into a cultural asset that will boost the city’s image and attract more people downtown and more business. But for this to happen, vision and leadership is needed at the council table and normally that comes from the chief executive – the mayor – with council following suit.
Therefore Mayor Pratt, as a former councillor myself, I respectfully ask you to reconsider your position on selling the City’s heritage fire hall. If you sell it you’ll be doing nothing more than selling the City’s silverware. But if you give the arts council a chance to show what they can do, you’ll indeed be a mayor of vision and leadership.
It’s up to you. And if the arts council fails, the failure will be on their hands, not yours.
Gerry Warner is a former councillor and retired journalist.