If you were looking forward to sitting outside with your friends and taking in a bit of culture at the proposed community stage in the future, you’re out of luck.
Due to a conflict of vision, the Fort St. John Friends of a Community Stage project committee has disbanded and the city has directed staff to table efforts related to the creation of a community stage.
Since June 2010, the idea of a permanent stage structure in Centennial Park has been floating around the Fort St. John community as an opportunity to create a cultural fixture in one of the city’s central parks.
“The idea of this was a permanent stage in an intimate location for intimate performances, not a big hoopla deal,” said Scott Fraser, one of the three men who initially brought the idea to council. “That was our vision and we really didn’t want to move from that.”
The group advised the city that they had already garnered positive community support and that they were willing to fundraise for the project and take steps necessary to construct the proposed band-shell stage.
Upon their initial presentation, council approved the idea in principle and ordered an administration report to fully review all aspects of the project.
Moving forward, Fraser and his partners requested $10,000 in funding to get the plans for a permanent stage fixture in Centennial Park drawn up by an engineer, noting that certain challenges such as the impact on park ground, existing power supply and security would be taken in to account as part of the design.
The funding request was ultimately denied by City Council, who recommended that the group start the process of formalizing their group in to a registered society so they could begin applying for grants and receiving donations towards the design and construction of the stage.
By June of 2011, the group had formalized a partnership with the Community Arts Council to this end and they continued to push forward on negotiating an agreement for the management and ownership of land in Centennial Park for the project.
However, it became evident to the committee that the vision they were selling to the community and moving forward on was not in line with what the City had in mind.
“The pull was towards a non-permanent stage; one that could be put up, taken down and moved around,” said Fraser.
The City already owns a portable stage that is used for events like Canada Day and High on Ice, but Fraser noted that their vision seemed to be the next step up of stage. This could have been anything from a lowboy truck that unfolds to a stage to a container that can be folded out in to a stage.
“They just seemed to want something more flexible,” said Fraser, noting that he got the impression that it was viewed as a potential moneymaker as well.
The City was looking at the project’s feasibility. To that end, they were looking at the fact that a complete redesign of Centennial Park would need to be completed in order to accommodate a permanent stage and performance space.
However, Fraser said that those things were considered from the very beginning.
“The community stage was not going to cost the City anything,” said Fraser. “This was done with three people and we were even going to, with the money we raised, help them rewire and replumb Centennial Park because that is one of the issues there.”
With the visions not matching up, Fraser and the rest of his committee made the decision to step back.
“We weren’t mad, but we were disappointed because we spent two years working towards this and really getting the community on side,” said Fraser. “We just had to step back and say that we’ve spent two years getting to this point and we didn’t want to have to start over again, having to sell the project. It’s two people volunteering, and all our energy is trying to get money to get this going.”
With the committee disbanding, city council has also instructed staff to table efforts related to the creation of a community stage, leaving the project in the morgue for now.
Fraser said he hopes that something similar may be considered in the future because he feels it is a loss for the community.
“It would have dances, it could have art shows, it would have music, and people could do speeches or whatever. You could have Friday night at the movies. It was just a place where people could go,” said Fraser. “When you look at places like Penticton or the whole whack of places that have these, people spend the evening down there.”
The City of Fort St. John could not be reached for comment.