Last month, on behalf of the Fredericton Playhouse board of directors, I provided an important update on the new regional performing arts centre to Fredericton City Council. Now, we’re looking for feedback from the public and community stakeholders as the project moves forward.
The first point we wanted to address was that the total project cost for a new facility in the City-owned parking lot at the foot of York Street has been reduced – initially the estimated project cost for this location was $51.3 million; now, it would cost an estimated $47.1 million.
As we’ve continued to make progress with this important project for our region, we’ve been able to better understand the various elements involved, and have been able to adjust the budget accordingly. The reduced costs are largely attributed to the elimination of land acquisition costs and updated construction costs.
While meeting with Council, we also presented a new site option, with two variations on how it could potentially be developed. Playhouse board and staff members have become concerned about the lack of momentum on moving the project forward at the York Street site, and the longer we wait to begin building, the greater the risk of the present Playhouse failing and closing.
This new option, which hadn’t been considered previously, would involve expanding the current Playhouse site at the corner of Queen and St. John Streets. The Playhouse hired architectural consultants to study the feasibility of this new option.
The new site would extend to the centre line of St. John Street, thereby reducing a portion of the street to one lane or closing it to vehicular traffic altogether, creating a pedestrian thoroughfare between the performing arts centre and the provincial legislature. It would also entail locating the facility closer to the sidewalk on Queen Street.
As mentioned, there were two variations presented – the first would involve completely demolishing the Playhouse and locating the new performing arts centre on the expanded site. Although the current plan (which includes an 850-seat theatre, a 300-seat studio theatre, larger lobbies, and shared support space) would fit on the new site, it would require a two-and-a-half-year interruption of service while the Playhouse is closed and the new centre is constructed.
The cost estimate for this option is $45.1 million, compared to $47.1 million on the York Street site. The modestly lower construction cost is due to the fact that the Queen Street site requires less engineering to address the proximity to the St. John’s River’s spring freshet.
The second variation would see the existing auditorium within the Playhouse retained and improved (expanding from 709 to 800 seats), while the additional lobbies, support spaces, and a second 300-seat theatre are added to it.
Based on the architectural consultant’s study work, this option could be carried out using a phasing approach to construction that would reduce the closure of the Playhouse to two periods of four and seven months respectively. The estimated cost of this renovation and expansion option would be moderately less ($40.7 million) than a completely new building.
The board feels that all three options have both merits and challenges. We wanted to be exhaustive in our research and present an option that hadn’t been considered in the past.
Over the past few weeks since presenting these options to council, Playhouse representatives have been meeting with various community stakeholders, including the dozens of organizations that currently rent the Playhouse to present performances, as well as the downtown businesses and groups that will be impacted by this decision. We also recently conducted and completed a public opinion survey, which received an impressive response rate, with nearly 2,100 individuals and organizations providing their feedback.
There’s still time to express your opinion – I would encourage you to contact your city councillor to provide your feedback, and express what you like about the presented options, as well as any concerns you may have. You can learn more about these options and the regional performing arts centre project on our website at www.theplayhouse.ca/pac. The board will meet with City Council again in the coming weeks to present our findings from this consultation process, with the hope of moving forward with one of the three options.
We must move this important project forward. Confirming the financial investment from our provincial and federal governments is critical, and with the confirmation of the site and development plan, we will be able to begin the design process and hopefully see more concrete action from our funding partners.
Greg MacFarlane is the Vice-President of Fredericton Playhouse Inc.’s Board of Directors.