The Fredericton Playhouse, a staple of the city’s cultural landscape for nearly six decades, is approaching its final act as it prepares to close its doors to make way for a new, state-of-the-art cultural arts center.
Discussed since 2013, Webb Management Services, a corporation that advises on the development and operation of cultural sites, provided the Playhouse with many options.
Option 1: Renovate the current facility within the existing envelope.
Option 2: One new building containing two halls at one of two possible sites.
Option 3: The Playhouse renovated as either the large or small hall, plus one new building.
Option 4: Two new buildings, with one new hall in each one, the smaller one being located at the current Playhouse site.
The City recently outlined its financial strategy for the new Performing Arts Centre (PAC), assuring Frederictonians that the project is feasible without impacting other city services or raising taxes.
Within their financial strategy, the City answered some frequently asked questions:
- Strong Financial Management: The City can fund the PAC while continuing essential services like police, fire, and recreational programs, without increasing taxes.
- Planned Expenditure: The City’s long-term financial plan includes major projects every four years, and no major project has been undertaken in the last 12 years (italics added by The Brunswickan for emphasis).
- Flexibility for Other Projects: Despite the PAC development, the City’s robust financial health allows for continued investment in other major projects like park development and infrastructure upgrades.
- Collaborative Funding: The City is partnering with the Federal government and Fredericton Playhouse Inc, which is leading a fundraising campaign, to finance the PAC.
- Debt Management: The City maintains a low debt ratio, and even with the additional borrowing for the PAC, the debt will remain significantly lower than the limit.
- Cost-effective Design: A value engineering process is being used to minimize the PAC’s construction costs while ensuring quality and safety.
- Comparative Financial Advantage: Fredericton’s contribution to the PAC is lower relative to other cities’ investments in similar projects, offering a better financial deal for its residents.
Executive Director, Tim Yerxa, announced plans for the demolition of the building and the beginning of a new act in the city’s vibrant arts scene.
“Late summer or early fall of this year will mark the beginning of demolition and site preparation,” Yerxa stated. “We anticipate starting construction in the following season.”
But, some citizens are hesitant of new development, for a magnitude of reasons.
Jeremy Mouat, president of the Fredericton Heritage Trust, is one of those concerned. Mouat noted that the gray-brick building, which opened on Queen Street in 1964 is:
“A [Fredericton] landmark … I think it’s important to recall that it was the last gift from Lord Beaverbrook to the community,” he told Information Morning Fredericton.
Regarding the age of The Playhouse, Tim Yerxa, Executive Director at the Playhouse, stated,
“It was designed to look older than it really is, which can be confusing today when people talk about the building’s historical value within the city.”
The new facility, designed by renowned Diamond Schmitt Architectural firm out of Toronto, is projected to cost $58 million and will be situated at the corner of King and Regent Street, featuring an 850-seat theater, a 300-seat theater, and versatile multi-purpose spaces.
“We wanted someone who understood performing arts centers and best practice in arts centers,” said Kenneth Forrest, Director of Growth and Community Services with the City of Fredericton. “Diamond Schmitt has a lot of expertise building performing arts centers across the country and around the world, but also familiarity with the downtown context.”
The proposed destruction is no new idea, and comes amid growing concerns surrounding the current state of Playhouse.
Without doubt, after 55 music-filled years, the building is deteriorating.
The Playhouse has faced multiple system failures, show cancellations, and fire code violations.
Yerxa detailed some of the struggles facing the Playhouse, including an incident during “Spamalot” where staff had to catch rain with plastic tarps in the catwalks.
“The building is our only instrument for these shows (within Fredericton), and it is broken.”
The plan has sparked debate among Frederictonians, with some expressing concerns over the prioritization of cultural development over other pressing issues like affordable housing and effective transportation.
Dwight Estey, a local resident, praised the design but questioned the choice of location, advocating for more balanced development across the city.
Despite these concerns, Yerxa remains optimistic about the project’s impact on the community.
“We’re building a completely different kind of cultural infrastructure for Fredericton, more like a community center than a single-purpose theater,” Yerxa said.
Public engagement sessions on the new cultural arts center are scheduled for March 26th and 28th, inviting community input and discussion.
As the Fredericton Playhouse prepares for its final curtain, and history unfolds, the city anticipates a new era of cultural enrichment and community engagement with the upcoming cultural arts center.
In 2014, 70 stakeholders were interviewed, 100 public members attended a meeting to discuss the proposal, and 400 people had replied to the city’s survey surrounding a proposed new plan for the playhouse.
Currently, the project is 10 years past its beginning, and in the January Phase which consists of consulting 44 stakeholders (board, user groups, downtown businesses, architects and planners, neighboring property owners, indigenous elders and cultural practitioners) on the draft schematic design.
The city did not mention rights holders.