The Khyber, arts, city staff: what next?

A lot of people have been calling and emailing very upset about the Khyber being on the list of property for the city to possible sell atTuesday’s Council meeting.

I have to say I too am really disappointed that this recommendation has come from staff.

It is hard not to feel that this is just the latest in a string of broken municipal promises around the Khyber as an arts centre.

Council has voted on three occasions that 1588 Barrington would be an arts & culture cluster, and twice has voted that Khyber Arts Society (KAS) would be a tenant and major partner in this building. Regional Council has not changed this direction, having neither voted on it, or even received a report on progress to date.

So when staff who deal with property tell me “there is no municipal requirement” and the property should be sold, well, it simply makes no sense.

Council said it wants an arts incubator downtown, in this building, repeatedly! It isn’t property staff that have dropped the ball. For whatever reason the promises made and the direction given back in 2010 were never followed up by staff, be it recreation, or culture, or whomever should have owned that arts incubator proposal and that process.

The municipality has been neglecting this building both physically and in terms of programming since it was acquired by the city for a dollar in the 1980s. The cost of renovations is now very high. Heritage architects and engineers that I personally trust and admire have reviewed the building and said that the floor system is failing and substantial engineering work will need to be done.

But I don’t really understand why my understanding and senior staff is so far apart on what should happen now. It seems crystal clear to me that two things should happen before we talk about possible disposal.

  1. Council motions do not have a best before date. The need and intent is unchanged. Staff has its marching orders. Why hasn’t any of the programming issues and a report on the success or failure of the 2010 plan come back to council? Staff should be actively engaging the KAS board, who in the 2010 report are supposed to be engaged in a management committee.
  2. Staff should be actively assessing what partners the municipality could have to rent the space to, talking to the Feds and the province about funding for the renovation, talking to developers and other big arts organizations about partnerships. I had one developer say he would renovate it and let the gallery stay for free for a 75 year lease. I had one major arts operator say they would take over management of the building and find tenants. There are a lot of unexplored options.  Bring these options to Council.  Engage the new Arts Halifax committee for ideas and suggestions.  Provide a report with the engineering assessment from the trusted heritage architects, so that this stops being a “he said she said” about the real cost of renovation.

Tomorrow in Council I will try and have the Khyber taken off the sale list and have staff given this direction.

But folks, let’s be perfectly clear – in every meeting I’ve had with KAS I’ve said ‘if the renovations really are going to cost more than a couple of million then we need to have a different conversation’. I feel the objective should be first and formost to be a municipally supported artist run centre in downtown, second issue is whether the Khyber building continues to be the right space. We need to be open minded about options. Is this the best and only space to deliver this program? Let’s have a big public discussion about it.

For my part, my first meeting with a senior manager about the Khyber was February 27, and I have a dozen emails documenting concerns.

Other than providing interim funding to KAS none of those concerns have been answered.

I have said to staff repeatedly these last months “if you need clarity come back to council for a motion” before this goes up for sale.

This is a big learning for me – on important and convoluted issues like this it is obviously better for me to go straight to Council, put a motion on the floor and provide direction and clarity to staff. I should have done that in February. I won’t make this mistake again.

COUNCIL MOTIONS REGARDING THE KHYBER

REGIONAL COUNCIL MINUTES July 31, 2007 – item 11.3.1
1. Authorize a process, as outlined in the May 31, 2007 staff report (Attachment 1 to the July 24, 2007 Cultural Advisory Committee report) to enable an HRM owned/community operated Arts & culture Cluster Facility at the Khyber building, 1588 Barrington Street; and
2. Authorize the initiation of a detailed Feasibility Study and Business Plan for the Khyber Arts & Culture Cluster.

REGIONAL COUNCIL MINUTES 6 September 23, 2008Regional Council – September 23, 2008 Item 10.1.1
1. Direct staff not to proceed with the reissuing of Request for Proposals, Creative Cluster Concept and Feasibility Study for the development of a creative arts cluster at 1588 Barrington Street, Alderney Landing and Peace Pavilion; and
2. Provide a $30,000 grant to the Khyber Arts Society in order to develop a business/strategic plan for the establishment of a contemporary art centre at1588 Barrington Street.

REGIONAL COUNCIL MINITES August 10, 2010 motion (status sheet item 8.1) passed that Halifax Regional Council approve:
1. The 3-year Operating Strategy and direct staff to commence interim programming of 1588 Barrington Street as an arts and cultural incubator, as outlined in the report dated June 21, 2010; and
2. That a recommendation to allocate all rentable space on the second floor to the Khyber Arts Society (KAS) at the present less-than-market rate for the next three years be referred to the Grants Committee for consideration.

  • Jeffrey Pinhey

    You really have to start off with the assumption that staff assume council is temporal, an annoyance that will change and disappear. They view you as an obstacle to get policy around through under or over. Granted, in the past it was easy to just go over…. council’s collective heads. But this council has some brains that have not yet been deactivated (you included Waye) although I am sure staff are working hard to remedy that. Just don’t sit under anything that looks like a 1960’s hair dryer, okay?

  • rapaport1010

    Cannot a fund raising campaign begin to help create a renovation of historic building fund? By the way Jeff Pinhey is right. The machine bureaucracy lives for ignorance of history and that includes Councillors. Sell of some other buildings and property that is proposed and ear mark to renovate the Khyber

  • GCracka

    Cross posted to Facebook:

    Waye, thanks for this. I have to admit that I personally feel the value of the building is greater than the cost of renovations. It’s a very unique window into the past and its value for the future is above what we may consider to be expensive. It’s a jewel in the heart of a downtown that has had its guts ripped out in many, many places. I was just in Portland ME and what struck me was how incredible the old downtown was; it had character and a charm to it that exists only because of the preservation and modernization of old structures. There are few — if any — like the Khyber left. It should be seen as an asset of significance that has both utilitarian and aesthetic (and, well those combined = cultural) importance and is, like a Ming vase or the Maud Lewis house, priceless. If it goes, then I think City Hall is fair game… Just sayin’

  • Lakergal

    Is this a reflection of what is happening with staff on a larger scale within HRM?

  • Lukas Pearse

    Thanks Waye. This is an outrage on many levels, not the least of which is the Staff’s apparent inability to follow direction from their bosses.

  • Fish Newman

    “For whatever reason the promises made and the direction given back in 2010 were never followed up by staff, be it recreation, or culture, or whomever should have owned that arts incubator proposal and that process.”

    Where is the accountability of staff doing their job correctly?

    A number of councillors have been waiting nearly a decade for a staff report and never get an answer as to where it is. Reports come to council entirely ignoring the wishes of council. I hear routine gripes about it on specific issues, but nobody’s actually holding the boss (CAO) to account for how or when staff choose to act.

    If a CEO came back to a board of directors with a bunch of work specifically against their wishes, the CEO would get a pink slip. It’s kinda ridiculous how often this happens.

    “For whatever reason” should be an area to investigate, not a caveat.

  • Mark Archibald

    Well spoken this morning Waye! (95.7)

  • Daniel MacDonald

    The Khyber is important to me. I hope the city can find an amount close to 1/30th of the $56,400,000 going to the new convention centre to support an arts centre/hub in downtown Halifax.

  • Lynne FitzGerald

    When I first moved here from Montreal in the 70s as part of the great exodus, I chose Halifax as it was a historic city and was so similar to |Montreal. Well the Khyber was the home of many small interesting shops at the time.. There was a wonderful health food store there among other things. WHY is the Halifax city council bound and determined to make Halifax look like Toronto. Please stop! This city is losing all it’s charm which drew me here originally. Tourist don’t want to walk through tunnels of high rise buildings. They want REAL HISTORY. Why are we getting rid of it all?????

    My vote is for Heritage Trust for trying to save this city! A developer will buy the Khyber and that will be another beautiful building GONE!!!

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