Saturday, May 23, 2009

New Performing Arts Centre one step closer...

Friday morning, May 22nd, I received word a 'big announcement' was to be made in the lower-level parking lot in downtown St. Catharines at 11 am, involving municipal, provincial and federal government members. I almost passed over the news release, but then I thought, "what else could it be?" than the much-anticipated announcement of the new performing arts space in downtown St. Catharines. So off I went, doing the 10 minute walk from my house in record time, just in time to catch the opening festivities including the singing of O Canada. With Regional Chair Peter Partington, St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullen, MP Rick Dykstra, MPP Jim Bradley and President of Brock University Jack Lightstone all in attendance, it quickly became obvious it was indeed time to stop thinking and start doing as far as the new performing arts centre is concerned.

It was announced all three levels of government will kick in $ 18-million each towards the new performing arts centre, with the remainder raised within the community. Brock University already has a pledge of $ 15-million from the Walker family towards their new school of fine and performing arts, to be known as the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts, which will be built alongside the public space. The location will be, of course, the old Canada Hair Cloth building behind St. Paul Street, with the new complex extending right up to street level on St. Paul Street, according to artist renderings. It looks great, and combined with the lower-level parking lot space, should provide enough room for everyone and their vehicles. I have heard the main parking for the centre would be the revitalized Carlisle Street parking garage, but we'll have to see if ultimately that is part of the final plan.

Without question, this will be one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever for not only St. Catharines, but for the entire Niagara Region. Even though the centre will be in St. Catharines, it will have the potential to draw people from all over the region and beyond to come to the centre, and help out other parts of the region as well with added tourism and hopefully investment dollars as well. In St. Catharines itself, the resulting influx of people to attend performances at the new centre cannot help but bring more tourism dollars as well as investment dollars into the city.

However, let's not sit back and think this is the cure for all the ills that plague many downtowns in this day and age. It will go a long way to help the situation, but as I have stated before, it is only one very significant piece of the puzzle. Now we need others to come on board and share the vision of a revitalized downtown St. Catharines providing places to live and to shop, safe streets to walk and parking for all those people expected to arrive for performances on a regular basis. The new centre will not do it all alone anymore than the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts has done it for downtown Brantford. As lovely as that beautifully-restored showplace is, the area around it is still largely undeveloped. That's a shame, and I hope the same doesn't happen here. We have already seen signs of improvement in many areas of downtown St. Catharines, and that will have to continue for this vision to be fulfilled.

The wine route coming through the downtown core will not hurt, of course, but I can't see it being integral to the overall plan, as we have no wineries in the downtown and in fact, the one brewery we have is leaving St. Paul Street soon as well. As far as the return to two-way traffic is concerned, well, I think it will look nice and be more convenient in a lot of ways, but frankly, I don't think it will make much of a difference either. People will only come downtown if we give them reason to, and the new performing arts facilty will do just that. Now, we have to give them reasons to stay and spend money in the downtown once we get them here.

Here's to the future looking brighter and more musical in our downtown St. Catharines - let's get those shovels in the ground soon and make this dream a reality; the time is now

May 23rd, 2009.

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