Amherst is not going to change its mind on asking Tantramar Theatre to vacate the Dominion Public Building at the end of the month.
While there has been growing pressure on the town to allow the theatre to remain in the former post office facility on Victoria Street, Mayor Robert Small said the town is moving ahead with renovations to the historic building so it can become the new home of town hall this fall.
"The decision is final. Council has made its decision on what the plan is for that building and we're moving ahead with that," Small said. "I've heard from the ones who don't want us to proceed, but I've also heard from the ones who are telling us we're doing the right thing and we should keep going."
In recent weeks, there has been a growing call for the town to hold a public meeting on the subject or hold off on the move until a plebiscite can be held.
In a letter to the editor, Amherst resident and Crown attorney Bruce Baxter questioned the town's budget for renovating the Dominion Building and fears it could become another atrium project - a throwback to the failed downtown development project in the early 1990s.
He said a public meeting is needed before the town proceeds.
"Perhaps I've missed something, but a decision this major requires a full public debate to educate those, like me, who remain mystified," Baxter said in his letter. "If the decision is based on reason, logic and common sense, the mayor and council should have no problem explaining and defending it."
Baxter said a plebiscite, under Section 53 of the Municipal Government Act, is required. Small said there are no plans for a public meeting or a plebiscite on the issue.
"Tantramar Theatre is an important part of our community and they've done a lot of good things. Reality is they have to find a new home to operate out of," Small said.
Small said work has begun at the Victoria Street building to begin converting it into town hall. He expects that work will move into full swing when the theatre leaves at the end of May. The mayor said the town doesn't want to interfere with the theatre's operations during its final weeks in the building.
The mayor remains optimistic that council will hold its first meeting in the building in September. It's waiting on a preliminary design for the first floor, where the council chamber will be located, and tenders will soon be called for the work.
Bette Douglas of Tantramar Theatre said she is extremely disappointed to hear the mayor's position. She calls the move baffling.
"The town's decision to move from a perfectly fine town hall, one and a half blocks away, and plan to spend the several million dollars it will doubtless take to make the changes they want, and to make both of these decisions without talking to the people, or even listening to the groundswell against both of these actions, shows a total lack of democratic consultation," Douglas said. "We ask that both of these actions be put off until after our fall election when we swear in our new mayor and council."
As for the existing town hall, the mayor would still like to see it used as a new home for the police department. In March, consultants Rebanks Pepper Littlewood Architects said the most cost effective thing to do would be to build a new facility for the police department. The consultants said renovating town hall would cost at least $5 million.
The mayor said a decision on that likely would not be made until after the October municipal election.