Mid-size theatre proposal moves to planning stage

The Sanderson Centre, shown being used for a public meeting in 2016, is considered too large and too expensive for use by many community arts groups. Brian Thompson / Expositor file photo

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A lack of cultural facilities continues to hamper the growth of live theatre, dance and other performing arts, a recently-released city-sponsored study says.

“There is a cultural facility deficit in Brantford related to smaller and emerging attractions,” the study says. “This deficit has had, and continues to have, significant impact on cultural development in Brantford.”

Community leaders recognize the problem and support construction of a mid-size theatre as the solution, the report says.

Prepared by +VG Architects The Ventin Group, of Brantford and Novita Interpares, a Toronto consulting firm, the $73,000 study was given this week to city councillors for review. The city contributed $36,500 for the study with the balance coming from the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Canada Cultural Spaces fund.

Depending on variables, including size, a mid-size theatre would cost from $15 million to $21 million and take six or more years to build.

Councillors voted to receive the report as information and to change the focus to the development of a cultural hub that would include a mid-size theatre. The change is aimed at incorporating more cultural activities in one space.

The study said the city-owned Sanderson Centre is too big and too costly for many local groups, who turn to church and community halls for presentations.

The study said the city needs “an affordable venue that can assist in the development of the emerging theatre, music and dance scene.

“There is a perception – also a reality – that the community of cultural producers is fragmented and not organized to address collective goals or to rally around projects such as this.”

At the same time, however, there is much good work being done – some of which is exceptional and not duly recognized, the study found.

Other issues include project ownership – who would own the mid-size theatre and who will build it?

“The cultural community has no capacity to develop a capital project,” the study said.

“If the City of Brantford is not the developer of the capital project, a candidate organization with the mandate, staff, financing and skill sets to undertake a capital project will need to be found or developed.”

The city, it appears, has already addressed that issue as Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant has stepped forward to work with the city on developing the project.

“Glenhyrst has been involved in all of the consultations leading up to this study and is knowledgeable about what the next planning year requires,” Coun. Cheryl Antoski said. “They’ve offered to take the lead on gathering this information.

“This does not secure Glenhyrst as the operator or the future site, however, it does offer the partnership of gathering the information needed for the next step of this project.

Antoski has been leading the effort to study the feasibility of a mid-size theatre since the idea took hold in 2017.

The Glenhyrst board of directors has expressed interest in operating a future cultural hub that would include a mid-size theatre, she added.

The next year of planning will focus on: a preferred site;  building concepts and options; finding a source or method for funding operational costs; and assessing the potential for capital funding for the project.

“The conundrum for us is that we can’t afford to have two performance theatres with another one operating at a loss,” Mayor Kevin Davis said. “I’m grateful for Glenhyrst because the city can’t do it alone.

“It has to be combined with other cultural endeavours.”

Coun. John Sless noted that, while there are a number of sports-related facilities in the community, that’s not true of the performing arts.

“This is an opportunity to come up with a facility for our arts groups,” Sless said.

Although a lot more work is needed, Antoski said important pieces of the initiative are coming together .

“We know funding is an issue but we don’t think capital funding will be the big stumbling block,” she said. “We think it’s operating costs.

“But this could be a big part of tourism and sustainability is important. We need this to be an economic driver.”

Vball@postmedia.com
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