Playhouse seeks public feedback about performing arts centre project

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.

York site
The estimated project cost to build a performing arts centre in the parking lot at the foot of York Street has been reduced from $51.3 million to $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 option would extend the performing arts centre to the centre line of St. John Street, and closer to the sidewalk on Queen Street.

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 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.


8 thoughts on “Playhouse seeks public feedback about performing arts centre project

  1. Depending on booked entertainment, the historical size of audience could be held at various locations throughout the city : Black Box Theatre, Woo Conference Centre, Forestry School Centre, UNB, Justice Building. Maybe a nuisance while construction under way, but the end result is worth the wait. Centre of culture (art galleries, Cathedral, Parliament Buildings etc.) in addition various dining offerings
    as well as overnight accommodations. The proposed Saint John and Queen Street location makes the most sense. The phased in approach will allow ongoing fund raising to achieve the dream. Ed Mirvash theatre in Toronto managed for many years by having matinees, early evening and evening performances to serve their audience before their larger auditorium. Exciting to envision as the jewel in the centre of culture.

  2. Given that the proposed location at the end of York Street, behind City Hall, is sited on the edge of the most recent natural shoreline of the Wolastoq (St John) River, plans should include what will likely be considered substantial time delays and costs for archaeological work. There is quite likely a large amount of both early historic and Indigenous heritage buried in that location.

  3. Mark Swift

    I have followed this process for years now and still am not clear as to the evidence-based rationale to justify this new building. I support the Playhouse and would certainly be supportive of a new building if the justification was apparent. If I have yet to understand it enough to support it, then surely the vast majority of the public who have not been attempting to understand it will not support it. I don’t think the case has been effectively made.

  4. Gloria Hudson

    A new building on Queen & St John Streets I feel is the best option. A
    new building would allow for an orchestra pit that would facilitate more diverse performances whereas an upgrade of the present building would not allow for this feature.
    It is already in a perfect location near hotels, restaurants & the convention center & parking.

    There are many smaller theaters in Fredericton that could be put to use (as a previous comment states) while the new building is under construction.

    Bottom of York St is a very poor choice & would see the end of the Justice building with it’s historic facade. It would see problems of parking and corrective measures to counteract flooding

  5. S. Boyd Anderson

    I went to the Playhouse many times while growing up up in Fredericton in the 60’s and 70’s. I have also been back a few times since. I watched the video on the state of the current building and was disturbed at the facility’s condition. At the same time, I understand those involved with any enterprise always want the biggest and best. But $50 million, plus (there is always a plus!) to replace or renovate! Not possible. Most of the money will come from government and we have run out of money although our political leadership does not yet fully understand this.
    You may as well look at a Plan C. What about partnering with the new convention centre next door? You may have to look outside the current downtown location and/or reduce seating to the 500 range. Saint John and Moncton rebuilt their theatres built in the 1920’s for a lot less than half of what the Playhouse is considering.

  6. Doris MacSween

    I from day one was averse to relocating the play house in the city parking lot at the foot of York street . In fact i have not spoken to one person who is for that move.
    I feel there is something magical about its present location and structure.
    I definitely am in favor of keeping the playhouse at its present location and whether you choose option one or two, I’m sure in the long run the correct decision will be made.

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