With all of the delays in securing funding for the Strand Theatre restoration, Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed has one message for the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society: Time’s up.
"I think the organization has been given ample time to put together a package that I can feel comfortable moving forward with in trying to present to our government," Tweed said. "As of today, I have just seen no indication that it’s happened. I regret this, but I don’t think this group is organized. I don’t think they have done anything on the fundraising side, at least I have heard nothing."
The BFMAS application for Canadian Heritage funds to help pay for the theatre’s restoration was originally declined in March, but at that time, they were invited to reapply with a revised business plan. On Thursday, BFMAS artistic director Shandra MacNeill said the second application has not yet been submitted. However deadlines and terms for other grants, such as a $474,000 from Renaissance Brandon, are coming into play.
Tweed said the lengthy delays in applying and reapplying for grants left him where he can no longer support the project or spending federal funds on the Strand Theatre.
"The fact they have not resubmitted indicates their lack of support for this project and the community’s lack of commitment for the project," Tweed said. "You can not apply for federal funding when your only other sources of 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."
MacNeill told the Brandon Sun that she couldn’t understand how the federal government could have refused the group funding when its second application had not been submitted yet.
"That seems a little but odd," MacNeill said. "This is not a political decision. It’s a decision made by bureaucratic process and unless there’s ministerial intervention at the end of the line, when the minister is supposed to sign off on it, the money is in the program. We are applying for the program and it gets a bureaucratic process and it’s based on the merits of the project. Unless you are getting emails from bureaucrats, I’m not sure where you are getting this."
Tweed fired back at the BFMAS claim that political concerns are coming into play regarding grant applications supporting the Strand Theatre.
"I have always had my doubts about it and I have always had concerns," Tweed said. "I have had concerns expressed to me by many people in Brandon. Nobody is against downtown development, but I think what people say to me is when the governments of Manitoba, Brandon and Canada are the sole or major investors in this, it’s probably not as good an idea as was originally thought."
The grant rejection letter sent by Canadian Heritage to the BFMAS on March 14 rejected the grant application, noting that "fundraising and business plans provided were optimistic and did not demonstrate that the (BFMAS) has the capacity to successfully manage the capital project or the new facility with significantly increased fixed costs."
As far back as August 2011, the BFMAS told the Brandon Sun that the group was awaiting final approval on a federal Cultural Spaces grant request. The provincial government had indicated it was willing to provide $1 million as well and a $474,000 grant from Renaissance Brandon was available, but contingent on the BFMAS securing federal funds as well.
"We have to honour their agreement because they are attempting to get that funding in place, and have until Dec. 7, to have funding in place, no matter where it comes from," said Shaun Cameron, Renaissance Brandon’s chairman.
In the Aug. 19, 2011, Brandon Sun story, MacNeill said the society would start a fundraising campaign, with an estimated need of $500,000 when they "receive the green light from the feds and the province."
In a May 1, 2012, Sun story Brandon’s mayor said she was willing to offer her experience and expertise — she had been a fundraiser for 30 years — to the Strand Theatre project, but weeks later told the Brandon Sun that she wasn’t involved in the project.
In a June 19 Brandon Sun story, MacNeill said that the group would be asking for $1.2 million instead of the $1.8 million asked for originally and that the proposal would be submitted "as soon as it’s done." Then in an Aug. 21 story, MacNeill told the Brandon Sun that the delays in submitting the application were because the BFMAS was waiting for two or three user group statements to come from people who were on holidays.
Hours after a Thursday afternoon conversation with a Brandon Sun reporter, where MacNeill said the application had not been submitted, she said she had just gotten off the phone with a Canadian Heritage grant officer and had scheduled a meeting next week with a regional Canadian Heritage grant officer. That meeting will include a discussion of changes BFMAS would need to make before submitting the application.
"(Canadian Heritage grant officer Adrian Wortley) said that there has been absolutely no discussion at Canadian Heritage and Cultural Spaces about banning us from the program or not accepting our resubmission, or rejecting it or anything like that," MacNeill said. "There has been no directive to do so and they haven’t had any discussions about doing so. In fact, we have a meeting to go over the application."
MacNeill said if changes to their application are required, they will be made at that time.
"They have assured me this application has as much chance as any other of going through," MacNeill said.
Tweed said the Cultural Spaces fund the BFMAS hopes to access is "depleting quickly." He added there are other applications that are seeking a share of that fund that meet the criteria and that those would be supported instead.
"The organization that has been promoting (the Strand Theatre) has not been able to muster up a package that’s appealing to the federal government and I can no longer support, at any level, the time and delay that this has taken," Tweed said.