Letter: ‘Hall for All’ plan a keeper for the County

There’s a plan on the table to keep Picton Town Hall in public hands. It has vision and value for the people who actually live here. It draws together different groups with plans to revive market square with an actual farmers market, house long-term non-profit and community-minded organizational tenants in the old fire hall, and a allow community board of management to run the hall upstairs and oversee the whole shebang.

The County gets to keep its valuable heritage asset, the community board improves it, runs it and maintains it with plans to break even within a few years. The county essentially becomes a landlord for community collaboration. It’s a business plan I can get behind, we just need to sort out the terms and give them a chance — 18 months — to make sure they can get the funding they need to fix up the joint.

I’ve witnessed other, more risky community undertakings in the past many years. The Tett Centre in Kingston (which I’m just getting to know now) The Wychwood Carbarns and The Brickworks in Toronto are all a combination of public ownership and non-profit management. Each has been more successful than anticipated and each took a leap of faith to build. All have proven to be financially sustainable or profitable. Two of the three have wound up being business incubators. They have all fostered community. I think a leap of faith with the “Hall for All”plan could do the same for Prince Edward at the low, low price tag of breaking even or creating a profit.

I know some people want to sell the hall outright or a sell percentage of the hall in a public-private partnership but Prince Edward’s town halls are precious. When I was campaigning, one of the strongest themes I heard was, Prince Edward needs to start looking after the people who live here: to make the needs of locals a priority. As an elected representative, I take that to heart. I feel it too. We’ve promoted our region so successfully that it’s chipped away at affordability and chipped away at our sense of belonging.

We need tourism for sure: jobs, money coming to the county, marketable cache for our cottage industrialists, people shopping in our stores. We need the industry to be healthy and vibrant but we also need to preserve and invest in the people who live here. This, of course, means investment in big ticket items like housing and food security. These are huge and we’re just getting started. But it also means preserving our gathering places. You don’t sell the kitchen table for twenty bucks when you need $5,000 to build a new roof.

Council will vote on whether to ask for P3 proposals this coming Tuesday night. But the “Hall for All” plan is a P3 and more. It’s a public-public-non-profit-partnership. It’ll take a leap of faith but The Hall for All plan is solid. It saves the County money and builds community. It’s a keeper. I just hope we can keep it. It would be a shame if we didn’t try.

Kate MacNaughton

Prince Edward County Councillor