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Plans for city's new performing arts centre ready to take centre stage

'At this point, it’s too early to really put a price on it. ... We’re starting from scratch,' says councillor and task force chairman
2020-03-09 Jim Harris crop
Jim Harris represents Ward 8 in the City of Barrie. Photo supplied

Barrie needs a new, multi-million-dollar performing arts centre (PAC) at the old Fisher auditorium site, with a main and secondary theatre, says the task force which will present the plan to city councillors Monday night.

“A healthy, vibrant city has a performing arts centre, a place where the arts can be expressed and enjoyed,” said Coun. Jim Harris, who is the PAC task force chairman. “It’s a very important addition to our city, particularly for our downtown.”

The task force undertook a survey and had more than 1,000 responses, which showed overwhelming support for a new facility.

Barrie has about 100 arts groups now, and its population is expected to double in size in the next 30 years.

The presentation Harris will make Monday contains details about a 66,500-square-foot facility costing $53.1 million, but the Ward 8 councillor said those numbers are more of a starting point than anything else.

“At this point, it’s too early to really put a price on it,” he said. “Because council accepted the recommendation not to renovate the Fisher, and demolish it, we’re starting from scratch. 

“Now we’ve got a clean state, we’re not renovating an old building,” Harris added. “We’re starting with a new building, so what will that look like?”

The presentation contains details of a main theatre with 800 to 900 seats, 60 to 70 per cent of them on the orchestra level, and 600 seats when the balcony is closed. Its stage would be 50 feet by 100 feet, including the wings.

The secondary theatre would have 350 seats and there would also be multi-purpose space in the facility, about 5,000 sq. ft. for rehearsals and performances.

When construction would start, and when it would finish, is also undetermined at this point.

“If you’re from the arts community, you would want this thing finished as soon as possible,” Harris said. “We lost the Fisher, the Georgian (Theatre) is in a temporary status, and we don’t have guarantees, long term for that.

“Really it’s as soon as possible, all things going well and funding able to be secured. The arts community, they need it now.”

The PAC’s funding model is 30/30/30/10  equal shares from the federal, provincial, municipal levels of government, and the remainder from fundraising. The city would apply for capital infrastructure grants from the provincial and federal governments. Last year, council agreed to start a theatre reserve and $2.5 million went in this year, Harris said.

The PAC is meant to replace both Georgian Theatre, which has 680 seats, and the demolished Fisher auditorium, which had 980 seats at the former Barrie Central Collegiate site on Dunlop Street West.

The task force did look at demand from user groups for a PAC. A sampling of 18 groups generated 158 requests for the main stage, 146 for the smaller stage and 155 for multi-purpose space in a single year. This translates into 195 days of bookings, with 129 days of two or more requests. The potential audience is estimated at more than 45,000 people.

Additional community use and rental could include community cultural celebrations such as Barrie Native Friendship Centre drum circles and the Pow Wow event, numerous festivals such as Barrie Jazz, Rhythm Fest, Culture Days and civic celebrations.

The PAC could also host events that require all three spaces - such as the Ontario Vocal Festival, Choral Fest, dance competitions and music recitals.

The task force also looked at economic impact. Its survey concluded Barrie residents go elsewhere for more than 40 per cent of their performance events  first to the Greater Toronto Area, next to Orillia. Why they go relates to the quality of arts and culture facilities.

They spend $65-plus per ticket, on average, and $62-plus for food, retail purchases and other expenditures. The task force says $5 million is leaving Barrie annually. 

Councillors will consider a motion Monday night that the PAC task force’s recommendations detailed in Monday’s plan be received, and council support the continued development of a PAC in downtown Barrie.

City staff would also hire a professional firm with expertise in municipal theatre development, design and management to review the task force recommendations and report back to councillors by memo detailing the firm’s recommendations  including project timelines, resources being requested and the design scope of the project.

Once councillors have the memo, an architectural firm would be hired to complete a concept plan and a cost estimate for a performing arts centre, with funding from the 2022 and 2023 capital budgets.

“It’s to give council a benchmark. We have a decent idea, given the size and the qualities a theatre would ideally have,” Harris said. "But much of this needs to be vetted.” 

There would also be an implementation plan that includes timelines for construction, recommendations for a fundraising program, an operating plan and the cost of its annual operating budget.

This motion could be considered for final approval at city council’s Jan. 31 meeting.