Should Calgary spend $412M upgrading Arts Commons?

Arts Commons is asking the city for a $412-million upgrade — complete with three new theatres, the latest in production equipment and a much brighter, more modern look.

Calgary Eyeopener's Unconventional Panel weighs in ahead of Monday's council meeting

A conceptual drawing of a proposed interior for a revamped Arts Commons in downtown Calgary. (City of Calgary)

If you've been to Arts Commons recently, you know the space is looking tired and dated.

The theatre and music venue was built in 1985.

That's why Arts Commons is asking the city for a $412-million upgrade — complete with three new theatres, the latest in production equipment and a much brighter, more modern look.

Phase one of the Arts Commons project would see a new building constructed for $208 million on the west side of Olympic Plaza, while phase two would transform and refurbish the existing building for $204 million.

On Monday, city council will begin sifting through its capital spending priorities. Ahead of that, officials have launched the Arts Commons Transformation project — ACT — using the hashtag #ACTNOW.

The Calgary Eyeopener's Unconventional Panel — featuring George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Industries, Manjit Minhas, a founder of Minhas Breweries and star of Dragons Den, and Michelle Minke, founder of Cowtown Opera — also weighed in this week.

An artist's rendering of the two proposed phases for a new Arts Commons building next to Olympic Plaza. (City of Calgary)

"I confess, number one, I believe we should be spending this money," said Brookman.

"This is money that will generate revenue, bring tourism, bring people, create a culture — much more than the Green Line [LRT] for example, at $4.6 billion."

Minhas agreed.

"I'm on the same lines as George in that yes, it needs to be done," she said. 

"Maybe not necessarily first, but I think in the two phases they've planned … it's about time. I think it really contributes to a liveable city. Not only tourism, but to go into your own city to find entertainment, to do a lot of things that are right here, to attract shows, to attract the right type of individuals in the arts, for example, to come here.

"If you went back and asked people about the public library, look how much it's used right now. I drove by at 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday and it was packed. We need more places we can all converge, and meet, and go and enjoy not only the arts, but each others' company."

A rendering of the proposed south building for Arts Commons. (City of Calgary)

Minke was the dissenting opinion on the panel.

"Three new theatres is a lot, and there's already some amazing facilities and theatres that are being underused right now in our city," she said.

"What worries me is, is the value for our arts really happening in our city right now? I've been to 10, 20 concerts at Arts Commons this season already, and there's crickets. Every show is barely sold.

"Do we really need more theatres? And yes, that building looks beautiful, but we have beautiful buildings. Calgary's [new Central] Library has a beautiful new theatre … I just think the money could be better spent in investing in our community and our artists, rather than a beautiful building."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener


  • A previous version of this article said the Arts Commons proposal would cost $484 million, with the first phase costing $280 million. In fact, Arts Commons says the total cost would be $412 million, including $208 million for the first phase and $204 million for the second.
    Jan 24, 2019 6:20 PM MT


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