Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Performing Arts Centre coming to downtown St. Catharines?

It has been quite a week, busily preparing for Christmas, while digesting the information that finally, wonders of wonders, our learned city fathers might actually be getting the ball rolling on building a new performing arts centre in downtown St. Catharines. Let's hope it's true!

There is a fair amount of skepticism out there, as we've heard some of this before, of course. The difference this time is the participation of Brock University and their desire to build a new school of fine and performing arts as part of the complex. If it were not for that, this idea would still be nothing but an idea. Another big contributing factor in all this is the recent announcement Marilyn Walker was contributing 15-million towards the school. This is a very generous donation from a family known in this area for more than their share of generous donations. The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts will be a fitting tribute to a most deserving family.

So, what does it all mean? Well, it means we are a lot closer than we've ever been, and likely within reach, even with these tough economic times we all now face. A major infrastructure project like this will often be viewed favourably by most levels of government, providing they are not footing the whole bill, of course. In this case, with a 15-million donation already and other sources of funding at the local level seemingly falling into place, you have to feel good about the project's chances for survival.

Make no mistake, it is still going to be an expensive project, as we saw last week when St. Catharines City Council unanimously approved the 101-million project. One-hundred, one million! That is major league redevelopment, my friend, and just what we need in the downtown core. The spinoffs from this project are enormous, providing of course everyone remains on the same page and each level of support remains in place.

Now, I am not going to be one of those who says this will be the saviour of our crumbling downtown in St. Catharines, any more than two-way traffic will be. It can certainly be a catalyst to change, but more needs to be done if we are to turn the downtown around. More residential housing is needed downtown, and of course, more businesses catering to the crowd the centre will bring downtown. That won't be easy, given the economic times we find ourselves in, but at a slow, careful pace, I think we can do it. Another factor that will hopefully come into play in all this is hope, and pride in our downtown. These intangibles will help tremendously in the process of moving forward with this project.

As a New Year beckons in less than two weeks time, let's all work together to make this happen. It is an exciting new chapter in the redevolpment of downtown St. Catharines that will ultimately serve the entire peninsula. Everyone in the region will benefit from this; indeed, far more than the proposed summer venue for the National Arts Centre and Toronto Symphony Orchestras in Niagara-on-the-Lake ever could. Like the River Run Centre in downtown Guelph, this has the potential to anchor the downtown as a destination for many groups both within and outside the arts communities.

Let's be careful, but diligent in proceeding on this. But let's be positive as well. Good things can come from working together to bring this dual venue to the downtown, so let's get started. The future awaits!

December 16th, 2008.

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