Brantford City Council unanimously approved a resolution to allow City staff to move forward with further discussions with Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) regarding setting up a mid-size performance hub in the old Market Square during their Committee of the Whole, Planning and Administration meeting on Tuesday, August 15, 2023.
For many years now, the three theatres located in the old Eaton Market Square have been closed and still currently sport the 1980’s décor.
WLU is now leading the way to help turn the unused space into a “Cultural Hub” for the community and its students by 2026.
On Tuesday, council received a report with comprehensive background information on the history of the community’s documented need for a mid-size performance space (going back to the 1970s), the work completed to date and how the City of Brantford has chosen to prioritize its support of the Cultural Hub at the One Market building.
In 2021, Brantford City Council supported the project through a $150,000 contribution from the Casino Legacy Reserve to be used towards the project – the City’s first direct financial contribution.
WLU used $125,000 of the amount (returning the remaining $25,000) to retain a specialized architectural firm to further develop the project and in September 2022, WLU unveiled its schematic design summary with artistic renderings of the space.
“The Cultural Hub at One Market vision is to play a key role in the building of Brantford’s art ecosystem by creating a vibrant cultural hub in One Market. This hub will offer a diverse range of live programming and film that is accessible to all, and with community partners and relationships, support Brantford’s journey to become a destination for creativity and the arts,” said the report. “The Cultural Hub would include a 250-seat performance space, a 100-seat art house movie theatre and a white box gallery and would be complemented by a licensed street food market with local, curated food traders and a patio as well as a craft/emerging brand focused general store.”
Sarah Monroe, Director of Economic Development & Tourism Services, provided further details about the initiative.
“They (WLU) will be looking to consolidate two of the three theatres into a performing arts space that would have uses from dance to small speaker series. Then, one of the former theatre spaces would be redeveloped in partnership with Princess Cinemas to be an actual theatre space in the downtown core so individuals from the community and students could attend movies in that space,” she said. “This space also includes concession areas as well as dressing rooms which are essential for dance competitions. It [the project] is meant to be a launching off space for smaller performing arts organizations to build their audiences in order to eventually be able to have the capacity to move into larger performing arts spaces like the Sanderson Centre.”
Tuesday’s report has come prior to the formal funding request to be submitted by WLU and presented to council later this year in the fall.
According to the report, with the project costing approximately $12.7 million, City staff will present the recommendation to provide 50 per cent (approx. $6.35 million) of the total cost by way of a grant over ten years from casino funds.
Joelle Daniels, Commissioner of Corporate Services and City Treasurer, said that with the commitment to funding the WLU-YMCA project coming to an end, there will be room to reallocate those funds into this new project.
“Currently, we are funding through our Casino Revenues Contribution to the joint Laurier-YMCA project so it’s anticipated that when that funding ends, that funding would then be replaced with a ten-year annual commitment to this Laurier project.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Davis inquired with City staff about how often the City or community partners could use the facility and what the rental rates might be.
Monroe said that the costs are to be determined at a later date, but that they have been looking into some options to help offset the cost of the rentals for smaller community partners.
Coun. Dan McCreary then asked Monroe if the historical mural in the space will stay where it is and be included in the future design of the Cultural Hub.
“The most recent architectural drawings that I have seen do include that mural, and the mural is in very good shape right now as it’s being protected,” responded Monroe.
Next up, Coun. John Sless asked if community partners will be involved in the consultation progress to help shape the project.
Monroe responded saying yes and that WLU has been doing consultation since 2019 and that the groups will be listed in a later report.
“Wilfrid Laurier University has been doing quite a bit of consultation since 2019, and the Brant Performing Arts Network has been included in those, as well as a lot of the dance users and all of those consultation individuals will be listed in the report that comes forward next month.”
As conversations wrapped up, the Mayor noted that while the City has been talking about the potential for a mid-size performance space since 2015, it was unfeasible to go forward as there were other projects throughout the city that needed funding.
Mayor Davis thanked WLU for stepping forwards and taking the lead.
“This provides us with a great opportunity to have in place, a mid-size performing arts centre in our downtown that will assist in the rejuvenation of our downtown and also assist the various arts and cultural groups,” he said. “It would be nice tonight to know what those rates might be and the storage as well as all these other issues, but this is really the first step and that is do we as a council that we support this in principle? And to give staff the authority to now go forward and negotiate the actual specific terms with Laurier and that will come to us if we approve it tonight.”