Merritt inches closer to performing arts centre

MERRITT — The Merritt arts community’s dream of adding a performing arts centre look a little closer to reality this week.

The city has received $500,000 through the BC Rural Dividend Program to be put towards the construction of a theatre complex, a plan that’s been in the works for seven years now, according to Nicola Valley Community Theatre Society Director Nick Hodson.

“We own a piece of land downtown that’s suitable for the performing arts centre. So, it’s about a $5.3 million total cost for the PAC and we probably have around $1.1 million to $1.3 million. So, we’re quite excited about it.”

Hodson says the centre would provide an economic spark for the city — especially after the Tolko mill closure in 2016 where more than 200 jobs were lost.

“And we’ve had the downturn in the allowable cut which has cost us jobs and we’ve recently had a pellet plant closure costing us another 30 jobs. So this is an idea of helping small forest communities get back on their feet again and providing jobs and training for people.”

Hodson says a performing arts centre, which would include a movie theatre and a performing arts theatre for bringing in professional musicians and actors, would also help fill a cultural void in Merritt.

“We have no performing arts: we have no movie theatres, we have no auditorium space other than at NVIT (Nicola Valley Institute of Technology) which isn’t really suitable for performing arts. It’s more of a lecture hall. And the high schools have nothing, the schools have nothing,” he says.”So, this is an attempt to combine all of the things as part of our education system for our kids to use.”

Hodson says a similar structure exists in Revelstoke thanks to work there by the Revelstoke School District.

“It’s absolutely a gorgeous functional building and hopefully ours will someday get built and be the same.”

Moving ahead, he says the future of the project is “all money-dependent.”

“The cost of the structure is roughly $3.2 million to $3.5 million and we won’t start building until we have that. We don’t want to put ourselves in some kind of financial deficit.”

To that end, Hodson says the society is currently working on grants with the federal government and is hoping for some corporate support in town.

In a statement, Merritt Mayor Neil Menard was pleased with the news.

“These funds will greatly assist with the economic diversification and economic recovery in our community after the loss of one of our major employers,” he said. “We are grateful for the assistance and acknowledge the provincial transition team’s efforts in our community.”

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