New Brunswick

Fredericton puts performing arts needs ahead of FREX

Fredericton city council has determined a performing arts centre is a top priority for the city, not improvements to the Fredericton Exhibition grounds, said deputy mayor Eric Megarity.

Deputy Mayor Eric Megarity says city has invested in sport, now focused on a performing arts centre

The Coliseum, foreground, and adjoining Capital Exhibit Centre are located on the New Brunswick Exhibition grounds. which is perpetually leased from the City of Fredericton. (Megan Goddard/CBC)

Fredericton city council has determined a performing arts centre is a top priority for the city, not improvements to the Fredericton Exhibition grounds, said deputy mayor Eric Megarity.

Mike Vokey is the executive director of the Capital Exhibit Centre in Fredericton. (CBC)
His comments come after the executive director of the Capital Exhibit Centre, Mike Vokey, said in an interview that he can't understand why city council is refusing a request for $50,000 per year for 10 years to increase use of the facilities on located on the exhibition grounds, which are leased from the city.

"I'm at a loss. I know we've had support from some councillors, we've had meetings with the mayor and with city staff — everybody seemed to support the direction that we're proposing until it came down to bring it to the vote and everything seems to go back to where it was the year before, and the year before that," Vokey said.

Under the plan Vokey is proposing, the Capital Exhibit Centre space and the Coliseum would undergo improvements to allow for more trade shows, basketball and volleyball tournaments and entertainment events.

Arts and culture new focus

Megarity says there simply isn't enough money to go around, and the city has recently invested millions in sports infrastructure including two new arenas, two new outdoor soccer fields and the convention centre.

Fredericton Deputy Mayor Eric Megarity says a performing arts centre is city council's priority ahead of funding for the New Brunswick Exhibition and Capital Exhibit Centre. (CBC)
"Our focus now is what about the arts and culture, because there is a big economic vitality benefit of that," Megarity said in an interview on Information Morning Fredericton on Tuesday. 

"So now we have as our first priority — a performing arts centre and that's a huge project and all 12 councillors agree with that."

Vokey says without municipal support for the plan to make improvements to and expand the events at the exhibition grounds, it will be impossible to get the support of the provincial and federal governments."

Deputy Mayor Eric Megarity talks about the future of Fredericton's Exhibition Grounds and Capital Exhibit centre. 14:33
Megarity says the city can't afford to support too many projects if it hopes to secure funding from the other levels of government.

"If we get wishy-washy on that, the other levels of government are saying, `Well listen, we're not prepared to help you yet, until you give us a definite answer of what are your priorities,'" Megarity said.

Comprehensive plan for FREX

Megarity says council needs to see a plan from Vokey for the entire 31 acres that makes up the exhibition grounds in the heart of the southside of the city.

"What council has asked of him is give us a comprehensive plan for the whole property, we haven't seen that yet."

However in an e-mail, Vokey responded that the comprehensive business plan has been submitted to three levels of government and the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.

That's a very, very important piece of property, right dab in the middle of Fredericton- Deputy Mayor Eric Megarity

"It has been accepted as is, and even complimented at the federal and provincial levels – includes multi-year financial projections, commitments from potential users, and the construction plan by John MacDonald of ADI," Vokey writes.

"I would also like it known that the other levels of government had multiple meetings to review the proposal with me during the approval process, however the city, the only one to reject to project, did not."

Megarity said city council is open to sitting down with Vokey and city planners.

The prime land on which the exhibition grounds are located is owned by the city, but both Vokey and Megarity explains there is a "perpetual lease" on the property dating back to 1949 that gives the exhibition association the right to operate on the land.

Fredericton Raceway takes up part of the land the New Brunswick Exhibition perpetually leases from the City of Fredericton. (Meghan Goddard/CBC)
Megarity says there has been interest in the past in returning the property to the city for residential development but as far as he knows that has been dropped.

"That's a very, very important piece of property, right dab in the middle of Fredericton," Megarity said.

Vokey says in the past year, without any financial support from the city, the exhibition facility has hosted 55 events, up from 12 in 2014.

He says the property could bring huge economic spin-offs for the city with a small investment.

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