Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Project Niagara idea shelved in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Well, we got the computer back in short order and with a good cleaning and tune up from the good guys at Beatties Basics on Vansickle Road, the old beast is up and running again, so thanks to Tony and the gang for the help! That being said, I have to jump on this story as it is fresh off the wire this afternoon and I suspect this will be a topic of conversation in the coming days...

Remember the hotly-debated Project Niagara plan to build a summer home for the Toronto Symphony and National Arts Centre Orchestras in Niagara-on-the-Lake? It was a hot-button issue this time last year after the announcement was made the plan would indeed go ahead on a 268-acre side on Lakeshore Road presently owned by Parks Canada. Well, it was announced late this afternoon in a press release from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa the two orchestras would end efforts to create an international summer music festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

This has been in the works with both orchestras for over five years now, although it really only came to the public's attention in the past year or so. The intent was to create an international summer music festival in Niagara that would rival both the best in the world, such as Tanglewood or the Salzburg Festival in Austria. It was projected the Project Niagara initiative would pump close to $ 100-million annually into the Ontario economy.

The proposed site is presently closed off to the public, and for most of the past century the property was used by the Department of National Defense for training exercises. That in itself seems rather ironic in this day and age, having a vast area just outside of a tourist town for training exercises for the Department of National Defense! There would have had to be a major cleanup of the site which Parks Canada was willing to do, and there would also have to have been major infrastructure improvements in the area, beginning with the widening of Lakeshore Road in that area - no mean feat with much of the surrounding area now occupied by residential developments both new and old.

According to Peter Herrndorf, President and CEO of the National Arts Centre, in the release that went out today, "It's been an extraordinary labour of love for everyone involved, and we hope that others will follow in our footsteps to pursue this dream in the years to come." Andrew Shaw, President and CEO of the TSO, stated "The feasibility and sustainability work on this concept is now done, and perhaps when the economy improves others will revive this wonderful idea."

So, even though it is "a wonderful idea", why have the two CEOs and their respective organizations gotten cold feet? One can only speculate at this early stage, but one suspects the economy might have more than a little to do with it, as this was a major undertaking for both orchestras that realistically could only be used a few months of the year at most. I wonder if the efforts of those opposed to the Project Niagara plan had something to do with it as well, as they were indeed vocal over the past year or so. Perhaps, too, they just felt the time was not right for such a costly undertaking regardless of the economy. But what we do know is the plan is dead for the time being and likely won't be revived anytime soon.

Personally, I liked the idea of such a large undertaking, as it would bring much-needed tourism dollars into the area and certainly complement the existing arts institutions in Niagara. And with the new performing arts centre moving forward in downtown St. Catharines, the two venues would certainly offer a one-two punch for those who patronize the arts. But perhaps that was part of the problem: two much arts space available for too few patrons of the arts. Now who would have thought that would ever be the case in Niagara, eh? I don't want to say the downtown performing arts centre would steal some of the Project Niagara thunder, but one has to wonder if two large-scale venues in Niagara would or could be sustained in the long run.

Perhaps, too, the opposition was simply too vocal to be ignored? Who knows. What I do know is Music Niagara, our present, home-grown music and arts festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, set to get underway this week for another wonderful season of music-making, will be no doubt breathing a sign of relief. They may lack the dollars to bring in the big guns of classical music and the large-scale venues to house the performances, but the Music Niagara festival seems to fit Niagara arts patrons like the proverbial glove, so maybe this is a blessing in disguise.

I hope this is not the end but rather the beginning of a future summer home for one or the other or ultimately both orchestras in Niagara. Let's give it some time to settle down and perhaps revisit the idea in the not-too-distant future and see if opposing sides can work out a plan that works for everyone. And if the economy improves, all the better: we'll be in a better position to take advantage of the plan rather than lament the loss of a great idea. I don't think this is over yet, and I hope it indeed isn't. Just a stepping back and reassessing of the situation. We'll see...

July 13th, 2010.