Cornwall Arts Center fundraising nowhere near $1 million goal

In this May 2018, file photo, the former Bank of Montreal branch on 159 Pitt Street in Cornwall, Ont. The fundraising committee, looking to raise $1 million by July 1 is less than a quarter of the way toward their goal with five days left. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – Five days to go before its self imposed deadline, the Cornwall Arts and Culture Center Fundraising Steering Committee is nowhere near its $1 million goal.

The fundraising group set the target in December and trumpeted it during a city council meeting and then again during a launch event in mid-January. During a soft launch in November 2018, fundraising chairman Katie Burke said they were encouraged by the public support and “feel that our goal is attainable.”

But figures from a city report talked about at Monday’s council meeting show only a quarter of that $1 million has been raised – $248,510 – and less than half of that is actually in the bank – $109,778.

“We didn’t know an awful lot when we started,” Coun. Elaine MacDonald, an outspoken arts advocate, told Cornwall Newswatch Monday night. “We set an ambitious goal. But we have a lot of people who are telling us they’re going to contribute – some big contributors – but they have to talk to boards (first).”

MacDonald claims those big corporate donors, waiting in the wings, are “waiting to see the city’s sincerity” before putting their money on the table. “Nobody wants to give you $50,000 and then wait for five years for something to happen with it.”

The city has already spent $450,000 to buy the building at 159 Pitt Street and is spending another $300,000 to do an architectural study.

The councillor thinks Monday night’s presentation really shows the project is going ahead and “the really telling step” will be when the request for proposals (RFP) is out, which will start the clock ticking. “A year after that goes out, the shovels will be in the ground.”

When asked about allaying fears the taxpayer may get stuck with a portion of the $1 million needed to be raised, MacDonald is confident the fundraising steering committee will pull the money together, but the plan all along was for the Cornwall taxpayer to contribute too.

MacDonald adds that the taxpayer will still be paying for the Cornwall Arts and Culture Center because she “anticipates” the federal and provincial governments will be paying one-third each. The final third is split in half between the fundraising committee and the city.

“What we’re proposing to do is to raise half of the city’s third. So, let’s say, if the taxpayer was always going to be paying pay a third, they’re going to pay a sixth instead…it takes the pressure off the taxpayer,” MacDonald explained.

“People need to understand going forward that this will be a municipal asset. This will be sustained and supported by the city in the same way the Benson Center, the library and our transit system is.”