Arts centre proposed for Comox heritage building

Kelly Pound is hoping to breath new life into a crumbling historic building in Comox.

Kelly Pound is hoping to breath new life into a crumbling historic building in Comox.

Pound presented Comox council Wednesday night with her idea to purchase, renovate and restore the St. John the Baptist Church on Comox Avenue into an arts and community centre, with her main goal of preserving the building.

“I want to create … a centre that would involve a number of different elements in the building. The most important part of what I want to do is preserve the heritage church. It is in huge disarray right now; there’s a number of issues with it,” she said.

The building was designated as a heritage building by the Town of Comox in 1986, and Pound explained it has been sitting on the property for a number of years without any work to its structure and foundation, which she noted has suffered a lot of damage.

“What I want to do is preserve the property and restore it back to its original character,” she added.

She suggested transforming the space into a multi-use facility, including an art gallery with studio space, a meeting place, a sitting area and utilizing the existing kitchen facility to host culinary classes, wine tastings and offering the space to other businesses.

Inside the chapel, Pound suggested the space could be used for weddings, funerals, banquets, theatre and music.

In the land around the church, she hopes to create a garden area where people could sit and enjoy large art sculptures where local artists can show their work as well as have part of the area used as a community garden.

Pound asked council to consider fast-tracking the rezoning process for a house also located on the property which she hopes to rent out while renovating to help subsidize part of the renovations. She said currently the house is zoned as public assembly property, and was hoping to have it changed to public assembly and housing.

“For me to be able to pay my expenses in renovating that building, I need to rent out that house. Right now the house is not zoned to rent,” she explained.

Pound also asked council to consider specific renovations to the building to allow wheelchair access, because due to the heritage status, restrictions prevent her from particular changes.

She added she hopes to take possession of the building in either February or March, and presented council with examples of tax exemptions and grant programs used in other cities such as Nanaimo, Victoria and Vancouver to help her with the process.

“I think the building is of incredible value to the community and I’m saddened to see it slowly go into demise,” said Coun. Patti Fletcher. “I think this is a really, really exciting proposal and I look forward to what you may or may not be able to do with it.”

Mayor Paul Ives did note council will examine her requests at the next council meeting in January, but did warn Pound of challenges that she might face.

“One of the challenges will be is that from some of the tax exception programs that you refer to are for existing commercially zones properties say in downtowns of Nanaimo, Victoria, Vancouver,” he said. “Of course, our downtown is a little further afield from this and this is not existing commercial zone. The question will be how can you rationalize that.”

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