Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The future is now for the new St. Catharines Performing Arts Centre

It's been a little while since I last wrote about our still-under-construction Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines, so it seemed like a good time to bring things up to speed in this space.

I was reminded of this fact by two events in the past week.  The first was Sunday afternoon while my far better half and I enjoyed a late lunch at the much-loved Carlisle Cafe on St. Paul Street right across from the future home of the PAC.  Above the hoarding you can see the building taking shape, alongside the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine & Performing Arts Brock University is constructing.

To say the progress has been steady and impressive would be understating the case.  The new structures both look magnificent, both from down below looking up from Race Street or from up front on St. Paul Street.  You can finally see the future of downtown St. Catharines being transformed before our very eyes, and it is exciting to see.

Coincidentally, the nearby Mahtay Cafe was the scene of a fundraising campaign launch just last week in order to get the greater public involved in the fundraising efforts for the PAC.  Many notable local arts supporters were on hand along with those who have already contributed significantly to the campaign to fund the new venue.

Top billing goes to Peter Partridge, Chairman of the new Performing Arts Centre Fundraising Cabinet, whom along with his wife Janet donated $1-million in April, 2013 and in turn were honoured with the main theatre being named Partridge Hall.

Other large donations soon followed, with Jeff and Kitty Cairns of St. Catharines and Joe and Anita Robertson of Niagara-on-the-Lake both giving $500,000 to the new project in 2014.

Those are the headliners, if you will, but many, many more so-called "community champions" did their part as well, including Mark Brohman, Margaret Reid, Rachel Delaney and Ineke Brinkman.  All of these donors share the desire to help build a better community and do their part to support the arts in Niagara.

I say "arts in Niagara" rather than "arts in St. Catharines" because I firmly believe the entire Niagara Region will benefit from the new Performing Arts Centre once it is open for business next fall.  Sure it will go a long way to help revitalize our downtown core in a number of ways, but it also gives the entire region reason to celebrate.

Just two years ago, the Niagara Region commissioned a study that spelled out the importance of arts and culture on the entire region to the tune of $600-million.  With the opening next fall of the PAC, there will be a noticeable and hopefully significant impact on the local economy.

I have seen first-hand the transformative powers of an exceptional arts facility in the heart of Guelph, where the River Run Centre opened to much acclaim back in the fall of 1997.  I was there on that opening day and have been back several times since, always thinking what a wonderful addition such a venue would make to downtown St. Catharines.

Need more convincing?  Just look at the Meridian Centre, the home of the Niagara Ice Dogs and other big events that opened its doors last October.  People are coming from all over the region to attend a game or an event at the Meridian Centre, and that is just one venue.  Just think what three new venues will do to the regional economy when everything is up and running.

So here is where we can all do our part.  The launch of the Community Fundraising Campaign last week is a signal to the rest of us to do our part to help make the dream a reality.  Basically, they are looking for 100 families and organizations to step into a leading role by donating $10,000 or more to the PAC.

That is a large sum of money in its own right, and you and I likely would not likely be in a position to make a donation of that size.  But some community members would be able to, as well as smaller organizations that could very well have a stake in the local economy and would see real benefits from supporting this cause.

So let's get the word out and do our part in whatever way we can on an individual basis to help make this dream come true.  It is no longer a pipe dream; it is a dream nearing completion later this year.  Just stop down to St. Paul Street at Carlisle and see for yourself.

Come next fall, the doors will open to the 95,000-square-foot centre housing four state-of-the-art performance spaces that will host everyone from music, theatre, dance, film and more.  Not all the performances will necessarily be local, either.  Many international performances will likely be booked for the PAC as well, further broadening the draw and appeal of the centre.

If you have seen some of the drawings and models shown by Diamond & Schmitt Architects of Toronto over the last couple of years, you know just how exciting this project is for Niagara.  They are world-renowned for creating exceptional people-friendly arts spaces that simply work, including  the Daniels Spectrum Cultural Centre in Toronto, which is helping to transform the Regent Park area of the city.

That project, incidentally, received a Civic Trust Award recently at The Globe Theatre in London, England.  So we are in good hands as this project in downtown St. Catharines continues apace.

The future is now, and it's exciting to be a part of the cultural rebirth of downtown St. Catharines later this year.  Come along for the ride, and remember to fasten your seat belts!

March 11th, 2015.

No comments: