Last month, Fredericton City Council unanimously decided to move ahead with an expanded version of the existing Playhouse’s Queen Street site as the location for a new regional performing arts centre.
This latest decision is a huge step forward in the project, and our organization is eagerly moving ahead at a more rapid pace on the realization of this important community project.
Back in December, we met with council to present the option of constructing a new centre, built in phases on the existing Playhouse site and extending onto a portion of St. John Street. Our board of directors recommended this version as the preferred option, a decision we reached after two months of public consultation, including a public opinion survey.
This version of the new performing arts centre was favoured both in the survey, and by the various organizations and stakeholders we spoke with as part of our consultation process. It will allow us to build a brand new facility that includes an 850-seat theatre, a 300-seat studio theatre, larger lobbies, and shared support space, all of which will be built from scratch.
During council’s January meeting, we were pleased to learn that all of our recommendations regarding the project had been approved. In addition to selecting the expanded Queen and St. John Street site, and agreeing to build the new facility in phases to reduce Playhouse closures as much as possible, council approved several other important points.
City staff members have been directed to conduct a technical study of St. John Street to determine the best configurations of a reduced street width to accommodate the new performing arts centre, which will include consultation with officials from the nearby Legislative Assembly. City staff will also work with the Playhouse to develop a procurement strategy for a design team, which will eventually be approved by both the Playhouse board and City Council.
City Council also approved a construction budget of $33 million to be used as a guide in developing the building’s design, and agreed to work with our organization to resubmit a request for capital funding from the provincial and federal government, with the updated site, development plan and project budget.
We’re thankful to each of our City Councillors and Mayor O’Brien for their continued vision and support. Now that we’ve received the approval of City Council for the project’s development plan, we believe we’ll be able to move forward with beginning the design process very soon. I’m also hopeful that our federal and provincial partners will follow the city’s lead and confirm their investment soon, which would allow us to begin construction as early as 2019.
It’s important that we maintain momentum and continue to move ahead quickly with the project. The existing Playhouse is at the end of its life, and in recent months we’ve seen increasing evidence of that fact as the building has experienced burst pipes, roof leaks and heating issues. It’s only a matter of time before these problems begin to more directly affect our operations and actual performances, leading to cancellations and potential longer-term closures.
We’re excitedly tackling the next phases of developing a new performing arts centre, including planning, design and funding. And as our community’s vision for this state-of-the-art facility continues to take shape, we look forward to sharing more details and information with the public.
Greg MacFarlane is the Vice-President of Fredericton Playhouse Inc.’s Board of Directors.