Fredericton council approved a funding plan for a new performing arts centre, though the cost has grown by almost 30 per cent since 2019.
The $58.3 million has been in the works for years and will replace the aging Fredericton Playhouse.
Mayor Kate Rogers said she’s relieved to see the project get underway.
“It’s been a lot of work getting to this stage and also keeping this project alive in the minds of everyone: decision makers, the public, the board of directors for the Playhouse,” she said.
“It’s a wonderful feeling.”
In 2019 the project was estimated to cost about $45 million, but three years later that has ballooned by $13 million, or 29 per cent. Rogers says the increase is based on inflation — an unfortunate fact for any building project right now.
“It’s concerning not just for this project but it’s concerning for me as I look at development right across the city, because I know that everyone who is building something right now that is what they’re experiencing,” she said of the cost increase.
Construction on the new facility could start as early as fall of 2023 and will either go on the current site at the corner of Queen and St. John streets or next to the new justice building at Regent and King.
Murray Jamer, the president of the Playhouse, said there’s a strong emotional attachment to the current building, which was built in 1964, but the city has outgrown the aging landmark.
“It’s at the point in its life that it’s starting to fail us, it’s starting to cost us a lot of money,” he said.
“A lot of the things that worked okay in this building initially they will be improved in the new facility.”
The new space will also be bigger, seating 850 rather than the 709 seats if the current venue. It will also include a second, smaller stage that will seat around 300 people.
“For emerging artists, or even established artists that want to put on a show at a professional theatre,” Jamer said.
Arranging all the funding for the project took some creativity.
The city will borrow $14 million and receive a community donation of $3 million as well as $100,000 from Oromocto. The remainder of the funding is coming from the federal government, from the Canada Community Building Fund, which used to be known as the Gas Tax Fund.
That money was initially earmarked for upgrades to the city’s wastewater system, but $36 million in joint provincial federal funding has been secured from the Bilateral Infrastructure Agreement in order to free up money for the new performing arts facility.
“It was trying to figure out how we could still receive support form the province and make this project a reality,” Rogers said of the fiscal maneuvering.
“So without the money going directly to this project but instead funding something else that we needed and then being able to divert the money into the performing arts centre.”
With the funding now secured, Rogers says she looks forward to seeing the project begin in earnest.
“We want to be a leading city in Atlantic Canada we want to have the best downtown in Atlantic Canada and a performing arts centre is a real anchor for that,” she said. “An amenity of that nature creates such a vibrant downtown.
“It’s going to do so much for our city and that, I feel, is just exhilarating.”