A Railway Station dialogue

Editor’s note: The Current recently published a press release from the Madawaska Valley Culture & Heritage Society. Click HERE for that piece. Upon reading it, Mary-Rose Dawes posted a comment, to which Doug De La Matter, MVCHS Chair, has provided a response. The Current considers that their dialogue covers important issues about the recent fruitless negotiations. For our readers’ convenience, The Current reproduces both comment and response here:
From Mary-Rose Dawes:
It is true that we need the arts in our community. It would appear that the Township offered a place to host exhibits, with heat, hydro, phone and internet paid for plus $24,000 as a starting dollar amount. This was turned down. Lots of communities who have a strong and very interested arts group collectively rent space to exhibit their creations and work a turn as a volunteer to run the gallery. No municipal support needed. The artists of MV were offered free space. I hardly see that as a council that is not invested in the arts. If the artists and their aficionados are truly interested in the use of the railway station, make it happen by working together. Paying for the running of an art gallery, hosting exhibits or organizing creative workshops could all be done by an artist cooperative.

 

From D. De La Matter:

Ms. Dawes poses an interesting question and it deserves a thoughtful reply.

We certainly could have run an art gallery with that financial support. However, that was not what was on the table. And running only an art gallery was not what we were proposing. We were told during negotiations that there was much local opposition about the municipal Railway Station being used only by people interested in the Arts. This was never true (and that is easily demonstrated), but her proposed solution would have invited even more criticism of a similar nature.

In fact, her suggested model was tried by the Madawaska Valley Arts Council prior to 2004. In 2004, the last year under their management, we had about 1,000 visitors. In 2005, the township employed a permanent manager of the facility to plan programs that served the wider community. From 2007 onward, there has not been a year in which attendance fell below 7,000. In several years, the Station had over 10,000 visits.

The Station became the envy of tourist centres in the county and elsewhere. Click HERE for a graph illustrating visitor numbers.

MVCHS was interested in rebuilding extensive community involvement in the Station … the summer programs for kids and seniors, short courses, making the station into a destination again, not just a place to exhibit art and provide tourism rack cards. Our original proposal was met with unanimous approval by the full council and it specifically mentioned the need for two years of a full-time employee.

Somewhere along the line, rebuilding and expanding the success of the recent past became interpreted as the work of a hobby group, rather than a civic enterprise worthy of municipal support. Unfortunately, cost became the focus of the township negotiators, and the benefits to the community and to our economy were not considered.

The Directors went to a lot of effort and a significant personal expense to prepare MVCHS as a non-profit company, so we could deal with the township as a business AND be able to qualify more easily for external grants to bring funding into the community on the township’s behalf. Our formal budget proposal was just 60 percent of the budget for the Railway Station for the previous two years.

If we had accepted just the $24,000 of MV Arts Council funding, we would not have been able to accomplish what the community deserves … but certain members of Council could then have campaigned on “Look how much money we saved.” And if we failed to mount a proper program, the speeches would have included “What a good thing that we didn’t give them more money, they were incompetent.”

The primary intention of MVCHS was to keep this resource, that is so valuable to the community and the economy, OFF the political table. Apparently, this motivation was not shared by the municipal negotiators.

In spite of widespread agreement among business leaders and others about the importance of this facility to our year-round and seasonal populations, AND to our efforts to get travellers to “Come for a visit, Stay for a lifetime”, our proposal has fallen victim to those who apparently know the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

D. De La Matter, Chair

Madawaska Valley Culture and Heritage Society

5 Comments

  1. Barb Cardwell

    Very well said, Doug, and thanks for all your hard work on this. I just don’t understand how our council cannot see the far-reaching value in this, and are instead just looking at short term costs. To have a thriving community with a strong tax base (both residential and commercial) you need to understand the long range implications of your actions. A few members of our current council have proven that they are incapable of this, and can’t see beyond the end of their noses. Don’t give up – MANY of us are behind you!

  2. Bill Houle

    This reminds me of John Deifenbaker killing the Avro Arrow project because of costs. Saving a few dollars wiped out our aviation industry and sent our aviation specialists to the States. who in turn helped the Americans put man on the moon at what cost and loss to Canada as a nation. This maybe also be a case of what are we losing for the future to save a few bucks now.

  3. Lynne Yantha

    Well said Doug. I do not know why the value of the endeavour cannot be seen. Surely there are ‘nice to have’ items in the community costing much more than this, and I wonder when these items become subject of the same scrutiny.

  4. David Goulet

    This is an excellent dialogue as it is providing readers/voters with compelling data on which to form a viewpoint. This is a critical issue for the township and evidence-based decision making is a must. Clearly there is a proven link between investment in the facility and increased visitor traffic, community usage, and positive media coverage for the township. Certainly in a small municipality there are ‘nice to haves’ and ‘must haves’. For example, the fitness centre at the high school, as a town activity, may fall under ‘nice to have’ once the numbers are crunched. But looking at the data provided by Doug De La Matter it seems to me that the Train Station, as a core town facility, is a ‘must have’. It generates a substantial return on the investment, and if it can be done on 60% of its former budget, with a goal to eventually be self-sufficient — well, sweet deals like that do not come around very often.

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