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New Performing Arts Centre and the Fredericton Playhouse: Frequently Asked Questions

by on April 16, 2015

Here are eleven commonly asked questions about the development of a new performing arts centre to replace the Fredericton Playhouse:

1. Why are we considering replacing the Playhouse? 

Replacing the Playhouse was not actually the starting point. In fact, numerous studies were undertaken to try to figure out what needed to be done to the existing facility to extend its life for future generations. What we now know is that the Playhouse is in such bad shape that the cost of doing so would exceed the cost of replacing the facility with a similar sized building. This understanding triggered a larger discussion about what the community would need long-term to meet current and future user needs and larger community goals.

2. What exactly is wrong with the Playhouse?

Numerous technical reviews of the current building have revealed that most of the building is in fair to poor condition. Most of the issues are not visible from a cursory glance at the exterior or the public interiors. The Playhouse management has kept the building safe and looking relatively good. The issues are in the systems and building components that we cannot easily see (HVAC, electrical, structure, etc.)

More importantly, the costs of maintaining the Playhouse as a safe and functional performance venue are   escalating each year. More and more public and private funding, earned income, and other resources are being directed toward building maintenance each year.

3. Can’t we just fix the existing building?

Yes, but it is problematic. Refurbishing the existing facility to extend its life for 30 years would cost $12.3M, which is why the City and Fredericton Playhouse Inc. studied the option of constructing a new building that would better serve the needs and goals of the community for the long-term.

Further, a refurbishment of the existing building would require that current building codes be met.  Life-safety, fire protection, egress, and accessibility requirements would necessitate substantial changes; elevators would be required to reach the balcony, exits with fire separation would be required from all areas of the auditorium, and fire protection such as sprinklers would also be required. The studies have concluded that meeting these codes would cause a dramatic loss of seating capacity, effectively taking us backwards, not forward in meeting the needs of the community.

An option to expand the current building beyond its current envelope to maintain its seating and still meet the life-safety and other code items was also considered. At a cost of $19.2M, again the needs of the community would not be met and we would be left with no more or better infrastructure for future generations.

4. Is replacing the Playhouse the only option?

No. But we believe, given the amount of study done, that it is the smartest and most responsible one. Several options, including several that kept the existing Playhouse in the mix, have been considered. In the end, a single new performing arts centre with two formal performance spaces is considered the most financially feasible (both operating and capital) and would address community needs and goals for the next 50 years.

5. How did you come up with the 850-seat and 300-seat capacities?

A great deal of research was done to arrive at the recommend configuration. This included studying how the existing Playhouse is used, opportunities we are missing, what local users need today, and what trends we can anticipate in the years to come. Over 380 people were consulted, including current and potential users, the arts community, and business and civic leaders.

The 850-seat theatre would better position Fredericton with other facilities in the Maritime provinces, creating more opportunities for commercially oriented touring productions. It would be large enough to attract users that currently pass up performing in Fredericton because they require more seats to make their events viable (such as touring Broadway productions, marquee stand-up comedians, and commercial concerts). Too many seats, however, would not be favourable for many users of the existing facility who frequently attract 400-500 patrons.  Additionally, too many seats would put the facility in separate category, eliminating the potential synergies with other Maritime cities.

The 300-seat flexible venue was identified over and over by numerous organizations and individuals as a pressing need in the community. In particular, local musicians, dance artists, theatre companies (both amateur and professional) cite the capacity of the existing Playhouse as too big and other venues available in the community as too small. The 300-seat space would also provide a well-matched capacity for many emerging artists and smaller scale touring productions.

6. Where would it be located?

Guided by the City Centre Plan (2015), the City of Fredericton has agreed to provide riverfront land located at the foot of York Street along the south side of Ste. Anne Point Drive (currently the York Street surface parking lot). The decision to use this site followed an extensive amount of research and discussion – exploring various options within the downtown core. More work still needs to be done to determine the exact positioning of the performing arts centre on the site.

The existing parking lot is an excellent choice. The development of the performing arts centre will act as a catalyst for realizing a bold new vision for the downtown’s relationship to the riverfront: transforming St. Anne’s Point Drive from a suburban highway that separates the downtown from the St. John River, to a boulevard with development that addresses the views and access to the city’s most valuable natural asset.

As with any site in the downtown, our site comes with its own unique challenges: A potential loss of parking, potential for flooding (flood proofing), and addressing the needs of current users of the site (ex. Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival) must all be addressed long before construction begins.

7. When would this all happen?

There is a great deal of work to be done before construction including site selection, land acquisition, confirmation of funding, design, private fundraising, and so on. We would not expect construction to begin until 2018 and it would likely take two years to complete.

8. What would happen to the existing Playhouse and/or the land it occupies?

The proposed performing arts centre will supplant the current Playhouse for use as a performing arts facility. As such, it would be decommissioned.

City Council will decide what to do with the existing building and/or land. The City Centre Plan and other objectives could give some guidance on this decision. Disposing of the property might be considered in the overall financing arrangement for the PAC. Council could be specific about what kind of use it wants for the property, whether it is a private or public development that either includes the existing building or not.

9. How much would it cost?

An initial estimate for the preferred option in the feasibility study places the project cost at $51.3M (all inclusive).

10. Can we afford this? Who would pay for it?

Building a new performing arts centre will require funding from all levels of government and a private fundraising campaign. We currently anticipate a private campaign goal of approximately $4M which would complement contributions from local, provincial and federal governments.

The City’s contribution is accounted for in its overall Long Term Financial Plan and conversations have begun with other levels of government regarding their role.

11. What are the next steps?

Fredericton Playhouse Inc. has committed to leading the project with the collaboration of the City and other stakeholders. Together, we are currently working to secure funding from other levels of government and beginning the design process and private fundraising. Construction would not begin until the funding is secured.

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