Lethbridge group will continue to press for performing arts centre despite funding setback

An arts group in Lethbridge will continue to work towards having a performing arts centre built in the city, despite the UCP's withdrawal of endorsement for funding.

UCP government drops funding endorsement, saying project is still too early in planning stages

Bikes are parked outside shops in downtown Lethbridge, Alta., in a 2018 file photo. A Lethbridge arts group is still working on a plan for a performing arts centre that will better serve the city. (Sarah Rieger/CBC)

An arts group in Lethbridge will continue to work toward having a performing arts centre built in the southern Alberta city, despite the province's withdrawal of endorsement for funding through the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.

The previous NDP government had endorsed the project, which is still in the preliminary stages and has yet not chosen a site.

But recently, the UCP government dropped the project because it was considered too early in the planning, while urging the group to re-apply when it's got a firm plan.

Dawn Leite, a member of Lethbridge's Performing Arts Centre Advocacy Group and a member of the City's Performing Arts Centre Steering Committee, told the Calgary Homestretch it's been a long road, but setbacks or not, Lethbridge still needs a performing arts centre.

The city's current theatre, Genevieve E. Yates Memorial Centre, is booked to capacity with seating for 400, and cannot accommodate new performance opportunities or additional bookings for the city of more than 100,000.

Leite's group is ready to move forward, at least with the planning.

"We are at the process where we will be finalizing the size, we have asked the consultants and the city to have a business plan and an operating model, and we are working toward site location and are hoping to have a detailed design within the next 18 to 24 months," she said. 

Leite said the lack of performance space has been hurting the arts community and the city, as larger shows head over to Medicine Hat and Calgary.

"We certainly know that there are larger shows that are needing a higher seat count," she said. 

"We are missing out … But we're hoping that with the performing arts centre that we would be able to attract some of those shows and maybe keep some of those dollars here and help develop our own economy here around show nights."

Leite says Lethbridge has just a few options for performances — there is a 100-year-old church with 1,000 seats, but no technical aspects for sound, and no air conditioning. There is just one civic auditorium, with 480 seats. And while the university has theatre space with 500 seats, that's reserved  "predominantly for academia" and not always available for the performing arts.

The group has been working toward a deal for about 10 years.

There has not been consensus on the size, scope and location of a performing arts centre. The delays have left the project in limbo.

There have been two studies, in 2010 and 2011 — both with concepts and seating counts — completed by Ferrari Westwood Babit Architects, but a site has not been selected. 

Meanwhile, Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda's office says the UCP government is not saying no to the project.

Diane Carter, press secretary in Infrastructure Minister Panda's office, told CBC Calgary that for this 2019 round, it was too early in the planning stages to be re-endorsed under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.

Leite says her group will not give up.

"We will continue to work to see the project realized and if that means that we're going at it for another 10 years that's what we're gonna do," she said.

With files from from the Calgary Homestretch.


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