Premier Greg Selinger publicly backed the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society-sponsored Strand Theatre restoration project on Friday that lost the political support of a local federal politician on Thursday.
“Generally, we remain supportive of a downtown renewal project called the Strand and we think it should go through the proper application process and all the due diligence should be done,” Selinger said as he officially opened, from Brandon Municipal Airport, the Highway 10 North improvements made over the summer.
“It should have a good business case put forward, so we will continue to be supportive of a project that has the ability to attract other levels of government support from the community. We’re not writing it off. We know it’s been tough. We know there’s more work to be done and we expect the organization will carry through on that with the support of downtown renewal organizations.”
Selinger’s comments came one day after Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed bluntly withdrew his support for the Strand Theatre restoration project, stating that he will not back any effort by the BFMAS to secure federal cash for the theatre.
“The fact (the BFMAS) has not resubmitted indicates their lack of support for this project and the community’s lack of commitment for the project,” Tweed told the Brandon Sun on Thursday. “You can not apply for federal funding when your only other sources for federal funding are public sources, other governments. It’s pretty clear to me that no other funding is coming forward from the private sector and it’s time to move on.”
Tweed’s comments also drew the ire of the BFMAS in a statement released Friday afternoon.
“It is regrettable that we were blindsided by these statements, which were made outside the protocols governing the administration of the Cultural Spaces program, as we have always placed our trust in Mr. Tweed,” BFMAS vice-president Shannon Skidmore said in the release. “Such statements unfortunately hurt our community’s confidence and ultimately have a corrupting effect on the fair process of funding community projects.”
Selinger would not say whether the provincial government would increase its $1 million proposed contribution should the BFMAS not receive the $1.2 million they planned to ask for from the Canadian Heritage Cultural Spaces program.
In March, the BFMAS request for $1.8 million was declined by Canadian Heritage, though they were invited to reapply with a revised business and fundraising plan.
“I don’t want to speculate on that,” Selinger said. “What I want to do is have a proper process that moves the project forward. Our commitment to the project remains there and we expect proper due diligence by everybody including our public servants that overview these project and give them a fair chance.”
Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said the city has “a financial interest in the project going forward,” and has discussed this financial interest with the people attempting to restore the theatre.
“They have until the end of the year to get their plans in place,” Decter Hirst said. “Nothing will change until the end of the year. If funding can be secured by the end of the year, we’ll move forward on the project.”
Decter Hirst would not comment on Tweed’s statement, noting she could only speak about the city’s support.
“A downtown entertainment venue works very well with the secondary plan that’s in place and it will continue to be a need whether it’s in the Strand building or new construction,” Decter Hirst said.
Brandon West Progressive Conservative MLA Reg Helwer said private fundraising efforts should have been an indication on whether there is support for the Strand Theatre’s restoration.
“The litmus test I use is, can they raise and have they raised funding from private sources?” Helwer said. “It does not appear this group has been able to do that. So until this group is able to do something of that nature, should they be really be going to federal and provincial sources for any funding?”
Helwer said it remains the BFMAS’s job to determine how to proceed and added the group has been told what they need to do to have a successful project.
“If they go out and do it, raise private funding and have a business plan that’s viable, I’d assume people would look at it, but that hasn’t been done,” Helwer said. “They have been invited to do so and that hasn’t happened. I’m not part of their group. They have been told what they need to do and if they want the project to go ahead, they should proceed and get it done.”
Helwer said it was up to the provincial government to decide on the Strand Theatre project, but cautioned against it.
“It’s questionable whether they should go down that road especially in light of the news we’ve had last week regarding the deficit and huge increase in debt this province has taken on,” Helwer said.
“Are these the projects we need to be taking on at this time?”
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell, a co-founder of the BFMAS and partner of current BFMAS artistic director Shandra MacNeill, said that it was his job to provide support and resources to the city.
“I support all initiatives that provide increased opportunities for economic development in this community,” Caldwell said. “I don’t pick winners and losers. I support all groups and all projects that lead to greater economic development in the city.”