The decision to make a major change to how Fraser River Heritage Park is managed was a united decision by council, despite social media speculation to the contrary.
Council announced last month it would allow the park maintenance agreement with the Mission Heritage Association to end, in favour of creating a larger parks governance plan that would encompass every park in the district.
Consultations on how that governance plan will be implemented will begin soon, according to Mayor Randy Hawes.
Online and social media critics of the move have speculated that because the vote took place in-camera (closed to the public) some councillors were likely against the idea.
This week, The Record polled each member of council individually and six out of seven confirmed they voted in favour, and fully support the move to end the MHA’s contract and create a broader form of park governance.
Coun. Jim Hinds was the only member who would not say how he voted – because it was in an in-camera meeting – but did say he supports the direction the district is going.
Coun. Jenny Stevens said she’s been associated with the park for 15 years and the Heritage Association has done some great work. However, the need for a master plan for Heritage, and all the parks, has been discussed since at least 2011.
Hawes said the entire parks system needs to be brought into a unified system.
He said speculation on social media about ulterior motives are false.
“We are not running 7th Ave. through; we are not building condos; we’re not getting rid of volunteers. What we are trying to do is build a parks system that suits our entire community,” stated Hawes.
He said there are many volunteers in Mission who are there for the park, not the Heritage Association.
“It’s not about who is operating the park, it’s about the park.”
The bigger issue according to Hawes is the unfinished buildings.
“We have a kitchen expansion that is going to run into many hundreds of thousands of dollars, money which the Heritage Association does not have.”
Once the renovation is complete, the kitchen will be leased, but Hawes said he doesn’t know if the cost of the lease will cover the renovations. Other restaurants in the community are concerned “we are giving a subsidy to a private business that will be in competition with them,” said Hawes.
“We have to ensure that everything being done is completely transparent. Under the Heritage Association, it is not transparent.”
He has similar concerns regarding the observatory, which, when completed, would move the park into a new method of operation where people are being asked to pay a fee to use an amenity.
Despite assurances from the Mission Heritage Association that school field trips and volunteer efforts will help fund operational costs of the observatory, Hawes said he and council have doubts. He wants to know if taxpayers are willing to pay to subsidize the observatory if it is not profitable.
Hawes doesn’t want to see history repeat itself.
“The Clarke Theatre was built with the greatest of intentions. I sat on that committee for two years, planning that centre. The Clarke Theatre was built and we never spent time talking about operating costs, and within six months of it opening, everyone was looking at each other saying, ‘who’s paying to run this?’ ”
Fraser River Heritage Park actually belongs to the Fraser Valley Regional District and is leased to the District of Mission.
According to Hawes, all of the buildings constructed are technically the property of the FVRD.
“We have talked with the Fraser Valley Regional District. They are very happy with what we are doing now.”