Peachland council this week approved a new operating agreement with the chamber of commerce that will relax their responsibilities and hopefully allow the local arts council to move forward with their sublease agreement with the chamber to occupy the Mary Smith Gallery area inside the primary school building.
The chamber of commerce has stated they cannot operate the visitor centre area of the building as required in the current operating agreement without going into a budget deficit.
Earlier this year the chamber requested additional funding from the municipality to operate the Peachland Visitor Centre, which council declined. Recently the chamber returned to council to request they enter into a revised operating agreement that would be more achievable than the existing agreement.
Last Tuesday Peachland council approved entering into a revised operating agreement between the Peachland Chamber of Commerce for the visitor centre for a one-year period.
The new agreement includes a relaxation of operating hours for the visitor centre as follows:
- Not less than eight hours per day, seven days a week including statutory holidays from July 1 to Labour Day;
- Not less than seven hours per day, five days per week during the months of May and June, and during the month of September after Labour Day; and
- Make every effort to obtain employment grants and volunteer services to extend the service into the shoulder tourist season.
The new agreement also includes several other changes, including adding the right to develop the visitor centre space for additional revenue streams (possibly in the form of a gift shop) and will also require the chamber to enter into a user agreement with the arts council for use of the Mary Smith Gallery.
If the chamber executive accepts the agreement, it will form a basis for them to proceed with a sublease agreement with the arts council, whose membership is eager to move into the building as soon as possible.
While all but Councillor Cindy Fortin voted in favour of the new agreement, the item generated almost two hours of discussion before a vote was called at last Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting.
“I have to say I am quite troubled by this request,” Councillor Eldon Kerbes said. “I have always been a supporter of the chamber and the way they operate the visitor centre. However, actions of certain chamber personnel over the past couple of years and particularly recently have shaken that support… I think we have gone down a path wrongly and found ourselves in a situation that is almost unsolvable.”
Councillor Cindy Fortin was not in favour of the new agreement.
“They want to be allowed now to use the space for additional revenue streams, which is ludicrous. To cut back on hours of operation at the visitor centre and then ask that they can use portions of the visitor centre space the chamber wants to use to include the procurement of corporate sponsors and other revenue streams…there is no way in good conscience I can vote in favour of this,” Councillor Fortin said.
Coun. Fortin also suggested that council seriously consider not having the chamber operate the visitor centre going forward.
“The agreement that we have before us with the chamber is the one that makes the chamber responsible for all of the operating costs and it provides for them to enter into an agreement with the arts council so if we don’t support the proposed changes to the chamber agreement then they have no basis on which to deal with the arts council,” Mayor Fielding said. “If they walk away then the whole thing collapses and arts council is left out in the cold because we then have no anchor tenant to work with. This way we’ve got the basis for moving forward. I think we’re all frustrated with how long it has taken to get to this point but we’re now really poised to make something happen.”
Councillor Terry Condon was also in favour of moving the process forward.
“This I think has gotten unnecessarily complicated,” Councillor Condon said. “For many years the chamber has contracted with the district to operate the visitor centre and annually we reviewed and now settled on current fee for service for $46,000. They provide year-round service for that money supplemented by grants for which they have applied and I think they have done a pretty damn good job of it over the years. The difference is the occupancy of a new building and the uncertainty of costs of operation of that building. For me that’s all it really boils down to. I really can’t understand why an agreement can’t be reached in terms of supporting those additional costs, so I’m a little confused about why it’s become such an issue.”
Mayor Keith Fielding said the issue was triggered because the chamber, in anticipation of what those costs would be, identified that they would become unmanageable unless they were able to adjust the commitment in the existing contract.
“When they came to us in anticipation of moving into the building and said, ‘Look, this is going to cost us a lot more to operate than our present space,’ we said, ‘That’s too bad. You’re going to have to suck it up and get on,’” Fielding explained.
Councillor Peter Schierbeck told his council colleagues they are in a catch-22 situation and also spoke in favour of approving the new agreement.
“I’d like to see us accept this and let the chamber figure out where they are. I recognize that they have some major costs with reference to staffing. Their staffing process is not dramatically different than it was. They never did operate in the winter season on a seven day a week process so it is not dramatically different from what they are proposing. I think it is responsible of them to recognize this prior to getting into some financial difficulties,” Councillor Schierbeck said. “Let’s let them proceed. Let’s get the arts council in there. If you vote this down you’re going to delay it for another unknown amount of time.”
Peachland Chamber of Commerce president Dave Collins attended last Tuesday’s committee to speak to the new agreement.
“There is a significant cost to operate that building,” Collins said. “It is what it is.”
Joanne Layh / Peachland View