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Save Picton Town Hall working group updates community on proposal

Save Picton Town Hall working group member Sarah Moran updates community members on the project.

Story and photo by Sharon Harrison
The future of Picton Town Hall took another step forward as Save Picton Town Hall Working Group (SPTH) attracted a full house at Saturday’s public meeting to share plans and receive feedback.

Dubbed ‘A Hall for All’ by the SPTH working group, its hope is for the structure at 2 Ross St., Picton is to remain in public hands for community use.

SPTH working group member Bev Campbell introduced core SPTH members Duncan Moore, Sarah Moran, Leslie Smail-Persaud and Lynne Rochon. She also noted thanks to members not present, including Margaret Watson, Christine Renaud and Gilles Miramontes. She also thanked councillor Lenny Epstein who first hosted a community meeting last summer.

The County opened proposals for ongoing use and operation of the building in May. The building, until 2016, was occupied on the lower floor by the fire department. Then, and since, the upper hall has been used as a town hall and for community groups. Expressions of interest are being sought until Nov. 26.

A visioning workshop was held in January to receive input into what people passionately felt their town hall should be, and should become.

“Your ideas from the visioning session showed that you wanted to keep the uses you have now, to create new ways to bring people in, to nurture and grow a community hub that exists here already, to make it a busy and energized gathering place that is right downtown in Picton and what we call ‘A Hall for All’,” said Moran.

Moran said the current draft plan covers objectives, uses, funding, next steps as well as timing and deadlines.

“We kept all the drawings from the visioning workshop because they really have been an inspiration to us since,” she said. “We worked on the best ideas for the future of the town hall.”

Key steps achieved so far include the formation of a core working group that has been meeting bi-weekly, and a grant obtained to create a strategic plan.

“A strategic plan is really important because it’s the foundation for a strong proposal back to council, and if we are to apply for any more funding, we need the strategic plan to be able to do that,” she said.

With assistance from the Prince Edward Council Arts Council, SPTH received funding from SPARC (Supporting Performing Artists in Rural and Remote Communities) to pay for work on the strategic plan. The group registered its expression of interest with Shire Hall in May.

“This is a huge effort and has taken a lot of work going out to try and find potential tenants and collaborators and supporters who would come on board to help make this proposal a reality,” Moran said.

“The goal is to preserve Picton Town Hall as an outstanding public space with community connections,” said Moran.

Specific uses identified consistently in the visioning session include a farmers’ market, arts and multi-use flexibility.

“Our final goal is to develop a financial sustainable operating model that provides affordable space for community use,” said Moran. “It was determined from the visioning session that we not create a cost burden for the County and that we keep user rates low, so that’s the aim.”

The plan looks at uses for the upper level, the lower level and the outside – thinking of the building as a whole.

For the upper level, the overwhelming message at the visioning session was ‘don’t mess with the upstairs’, so its current use is to be preserved. Currently, the upper level is used for dancing, music, arts, community gatherings, classes, clubs and regularly-scheduled activities.

A number of partners have already agree do work with SPTH, including the Prince Edward County Arts Council, The Regent Theatre, Prince Edward County Public Library and the Picton Recreation Committee.

There have been a number of ideas for small arts festivals, but there is a keen interest in re-establishing the farmers’ market,” said Moran. “It’s a use that’s rooted in the hall’s history really since the lot was donated to Picton’s citizens 1866 for the use of Picton’s residents for the purpose of a farmers’ market and a hall.”

The plan is for a seasonal market outside, said Moran, adding that it is imperative the farmers’ market be managed by an experienced third party and by someone who can promote it and drive its success.

“We can see that even though it is revenue neutral, it can have huge benefits to drawing people to Picton’s downtown,” she said. There was also the discussion of the market spilling over into Benson Park.

Plans note the lower level would be the primary engine for revenue generation to be able to fund keeping the hall. A tenant with established stable funding who can commit to a long-term lease and be known as an anchor tenant would help secure the business plan and also be a way to access to grant funding.

“We are very pleased that the Prince Edward Learning Centre (PELC) has expressed intent to partner with us. We also have interest from the Sophiasburgh County Food Hub,” said Moran.

Capital expenditures for renovations and enhancements, she noted, would will be funded primarily by grants.

Councillor Bill Roberts asked how the group would make its decision.

Smail-Persaud said a governance structure would be needed, along with “some sort of board management group.”

Campbell noted “The need is to create community and maintain community.”

It currently costs about $60,000 per year to maintain Picton Town Hall, but Campbell added that reflected current use largely only the upper level. The costs to operate the entire facility will be more.

Duncan said that about 70 per cent of the lower level could be occupied by PELC so it could share with other organizations.

Local businessman Greg Sorbara, who is renovating The Royal Hotel nearby, noted the heritage restoration of the building is important and asked if there were any estimates on what would need to be done to restore the heritage quality of the building before the new uses come up.

Duncan noted that they [SPTH] would be responsible for the inside, but not outside if it remained municipality-owned.

Sorbara expressed concern about leaving the financial responsibility on the community and the County when private individuals could take on that financial risk.

Rochon said that if a private individual owned the building, change could occur at any time and “the control goes out of the community.”

“I’m not suggesting it should go into public hands,” said Sorbara. “As an approximate neighbour to the south, I want exactly what is being proposed. I fully support the motion to remain in public hands, but the building heritage qualities need to be maintained. I would like to see this place bustling with community use. This is a gem and needs our support,” he said, adding the model does not work if the money is not there.

“You could donate Mr. Sorbara,” Rochon answered. “If you can help us, we would appreciate it.”

“If we play in the same sand box, we will get much further ahead,” said councillor Epstein. “Let’s work together, it strengthens our community.”

The group’s next steps are to take the feedback and work it into the proposal – due at Shire Hall by Nov. 26.

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  1. […] Over 50 people showed up for the SPTH presentation on Saturday afternoon last. The essentials of the presentation will be available shortly on our Facebook page. The presentation was very well received and followed by some enthusiastic audience comments and constructive questions. County Live provided an excellent account of all that happened – read it here. […]

  2. Trevor Collier says:

    This was a wonderful meeting: full of hope, energy and realistic planning from the work group and audience alike.
    It was great to see Greg Sorbara endorsing the idea of continuing the use of the building as a “better than ever” community hub – a suitable neighbour for his high-end Royal Hotel.
    It was notable, however, that he did not relinquish the possibility of buying the building. He argued for a public private partnership, with the purchaser guaranteeing the funds to manitain the exterior. This sounded like a good idea, except for the fact that even if the Town Hall ownership passed to a current benefactor, eventually it would be resold and be lost to the ordinary citizens of the County.
    In fact, we don’t know how great or small the cost of maintaining the heritage exterior of the hall would be. I would like an expert’s estimate of the yearly cost of maintaining the exterior.

  3. Ray Hobson says:

    I support a 3 year trial period.

    I attended the meeting and was impressed with their efforts. A revenue stream appears to be within reach. The message that the Municipality should not be expected to subsidize the Hall to the dollar level currently advertised was acknowledged.

    There are many positive Community factors which can not be monetized. It is not only about $$$. I feel a 3 year trial to allow the working group to get Grants, an anchor tenant, and a working relationship/process would be adequate as Proof of Concept. Also the issue should not be carried forward to the 2020 Council election..

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