A Lacombe group’s efforts to turn a local church into a permanent theatre has been dealt a setback, but supporters have not lost their show-must-go-on attitude.
City council previously gave support in principle to the Lacombe Performing Arts Centre Foundation’s ambitions to buy the local Trinity Lutheran Church and expand it over time to a more than 300-seat performance hall.
However, councillors expressed reservations with the plan at this week’s council meeting and opted not to pledge any money to help buy the church.
Council did approve providing $1,000 per month to cover the foundation’s lease costs at the church, which has already been used for a string of successful concerts, with more planned in coming weeks.
“I guess disappointed would be the right word,” said foundation president Grant Harder of council’s reluctance to help with the purchase of the $850,000 church.
“We’re not totally discouraged. It’s a bit of a bump in the road.”
The appetite for a performing arts centre has been proven over the last few months.
“The community response and the community support has been nothing but astounding,” he said. “People are coming to us offering assistance, both financial and whatever.
“It’s wonderful. The community is behind it. We just have to go back to the drawing board and look at our alternatives.
“In the meantime, it’s going to be business as usual. We have a vibrant little theatre there with great acoustics. We’ve just got to figure out what the next best plan is.”
The arts group had an option to buy the church, which is now expected to go on the market.
“I understand that the foundation is disappointed that council felt the property in question fell short of the community’s long-term needs, but I am pleased that all members of council acknowledge and appreciate the value of the arts in Lacombe,” said Mayor Grant Creasey in a statement.
“We are committed to supporting the foundation to fulfill their desire for a permanent home.”
During council debate, several councillors questioned whether it would be cost-effective to try to retrofit an old church into a performing arts centre rather than building new.
There were also questions about the location and whether parking would be adequate.
Coun. Reuben Konnik raised concerns that helping the foundation to buy the building now could mean further large funding requests when it was time to renovate and expand the building
“At that point, to me, you’d be better off building a new building from scratch than buying this one and trying to add to it later on a lot that probably can’t support a 300- to 400- seat theatre.”
Councillors also expressed skepticism the church was worth $850,000.
“Again, I don’t think there’s anyone in this room that doesn’t support the arts community, (but) this one is fraught with concerns.”
Coun. Cora Hoekstra said the former church is a great performing space for now, but the city should work with the foundation for a more suitable long-term venue.
“I think maybe we need to look around the city for something that might work better.”
When the church was expanded into a larger facility, parking would be an issue in the neighbourhood, she predicted.
“I’m not ready to put that kind of pressure on a residential area.”
Harder said arts centre boosters initially had hoped to build a new facility, but the cost seemed prohibitive.
Camrose recently built a facility similar to that envisioned in Lacombe and the price tag was $21 million, probably out of reach for Lacombe, he said.