Village consultation opens in a tent near the water

A wall tent is accessible, it’s easy to transport and cheap to set up. But when it rains, as it did Thursday, it’s also wet and a little…

A wall tent is accessible, it’s easy to transport and cheap to set up.

But when it rains, as it did Thursday, it’s also wet and a little chilly.

No one knows this better than Erica Heuer, who was manning the canvass suite, erected on the corner of Wood and First Avenue, to gather public input on the proposed Arts and Heritage Village.

“We only have one riverfront, and we want to make sure we do it right the first time,” said Heuer, a facilitator with Kobayashi and Zedda Architects Ltd.

Through a $28,000 contract, the Tourism and Culture department hired the firm to gauge public opinion on the culture and business spaces that would sit between First Avenue and the Yukon River, from Elliot Street to Wood Street.

“We’re backing up a step from the last survey and finding out what people want in a holistic sense,” said Jack Kobayashi, who was manning the tent with Heuer.

“It’s not about how many chairs should be in the theatre or how many washrooms, we want to hear about the big picture.”

Now the firm is inviting people to drop by the tent and share their stories, write suggestions on the provided posters, or grab a marker and draw their own designs on area maps.

“It’s not a scientific exercise where we’re collecting precise information, it’s more about talking to people and listening and getting their feedback,” said Kobayashi.

The government launched this round of consultations after an initial round of public sessions, hosted by Artspace North, revealed public concern about everything from building design to tenant leases.

For example, when the village’s development plan was first released in January, North End Gallery owner Art Webster suggested Yukon Artists at Work would receive an unfair advantage over his commercial gallery if it were given a break on rent.

This new set of consultations will determine whether the concerns represented the bulk of Yukoners, or if they were just a few lone voices, said Kobayashi.

“I don’t think the Yukon government expects to hear anything new,” said Chris Dray, Artspace North treasurer and Yukon Arts Centre executive director. “We know the majority of the business community see it as an important step and we know that the arts community is game.”

Nevertheless, it’s important for arts groups to have their say, again.

“I know the issue for a number of arts groups, they just look at me and say: ‘Oh for God’s sakes we’ve been saying it and saying it, we’ve been talking to you and everybody else for two years,’ but unfortunately that’s the nature of progress — you have to go back and do it all over again.”

Artspace North and its partners have already poured $20,000, a $60,000 grant from Economic Development and two years of planning into the project.

In January, it released a development scheme outlining plans to create a series of warehouse-type buildings, trails, trees and wharves along the Yukon River.

The buildings would mix art space — a dance studio, a theatre, a recital hall, an expanded MacBride Museum and artist studios — with business space for local retailers, and park space with trees and trails beside the water.

It also recommended the government pony up a total $16.9 million for building development, with some possible help from the feds, for a projected $22 million total project cost.

This year the government set aside $1 for the Arts and Heritage Village in Tourism and Culture’s 2006/07 capital budget.

But that meagre allotment is still good news to Dray — as long as the project’s listed on government books, it’s in the minds of decision makers.

“It’s a huge step forward,” he said. “It means government said: ‘Thank you, that looks like a good project and we’ll take it on.’ That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll do it, but it’s pretty much out of our hands.”

Meanwhile, funding for community groups’ projects, like The Guild Hall’s planned expansion, has been put on hold until the village has been sorted out.

The consultations opened at noon Thursday, and by about 8 p.m. the wall tent had seen roughly 20 visitors.

“On the one hand, it’s really a terrible time for the consultation,” said Kobayashi.

For most, the summer break has begun and, barring Thursday’s spate of showers, the warm weather has been keeping people outside.

So instead of waiting for the people to come to the tent, Kobayashi plans to bring the tent to the people.

They’ll set up shop at big events, like the Longest Days Street Fair and the Canada Day celebrations, to give people easy access.

“We’re trying to be proactive by going to where the people are to make up for the fact that it’s not a great time for consultation,” he said.

After this round of public input wraps, Kobayashi & Zedda will draft a report destined for government desks by mid-August.

The wall tent consultations continue Friday 12 to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, June 20 and 22 from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturday, June 24 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Written submissions and one-on-one group appointments can be made up until July 14 through e-mail at waterfrontvillage@gov.yk.ca, through phone at 667-3660 or snail mail the Tourism and Culture department.

Village consultation opens in a tent near the waterVillage consultation opens in a tent near the water