Contemporary Calgary looking for new location as planetarium deal falls through

Contemporary Calgary has walked away from negotiations with the city to turn the old planetarium into a gallery. Global News

Contemporary Calgary says it’s exploring options for a new location after negotiations to turn the old planetarium on 11 Street S.W. into a gallery turned sour. The non-profit arts organization said it has sold its current storefront on Stephen Avenue.

“We’re in the process now of sitting down with Calgarians and exploring ideas and soliciting their opinions,” said D’Arcy Levesque, a board member with Contemporary Calgary.

READ MORE: New life for Calgary’s planetarium

LISTEN: Contemporary Calgary walks away from negotiations with the city over old planetarium lease

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Levesque said the organization has been at odds with the city over the length of the lease. He said administration is unwilling to commit to a 10-year lease until Contemporary Calgary has raised 90 per cent of a $32-million capital campaign, which has put the organization in a tight spot.

“It would be virtually impossible for us – and also disingenuous – to go out and try and raise that $32 million without providing potential donors with a more substantial understanding of our long-term status,” Levesque said.

WATCH BELOW: Contemporary Calgary preps move to old science centre, needs your help

On Wednesday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said everyone – including Contemporary Calgary and the city – knew that transforming the planetarium would be “challenging.”

He said council committed $24 million to upgrades to the building.

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“It was a bit of a surprise that they said, ‘No, no, we wanted a 10-year lease on the big space even though we don’t have the money to pay you the rent,’” he said.

READ MORE: Calgary Zoo, planetarium reno and arts school proposed under $34M spending plan

LISTEN: Evan Woolley “disappointed” Contemporary Calgary walked away from planetarium negotatiations

“I think what really happened is the organization determined that, you know, this might be a bit too big to chew.”

Contemporary Calgary said Monday they’ve raised $4.75 million and have commissioned feasibility and engineering studies as a part of the plan to transform the planetarium.

“We thought we clearly demonstrated that we’re more than up to the task,” Levesque said. “We’ve been successful in raising money, we’ve offered comprehensive programming at our current Stephen Avenue location, we’ve doubled participation.”

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Ward 8 Councillor Evan Woolley said he’s displeased that administration let the deal fall through.

“If you’re going to open a business in a building – and you’re a private business – you need a certain length of lease in order to make that investment,” he said.

“I’m just really disappointed that the culture division of the City of Calgary couldn’t wrap their heads around what, to me, seemed like a very basic lease agreement – especially for an organization that has gone out and raised so much money privately.”

City administration declined to comment but said it will be releasing a statement on Tuesday.

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