Arts non-profits disappointed with leasing fees for Orange Hub Theatre

Arts non-profits are disappointed in City of Edmonton fees to lease a theatre in Orange Hub, a building intended to house non-profit groups providing services to the public.

‘I think that the city failed in its effort to create the noble thing that it was trying to create’

The former west campus for MacEwan University is now operating as the Orange Hub, a centre for the city's non-profit organizations. (City of Edmonton)

Two non-profit arts groups say expensive fees forced them to drop their plans to lease the theatre in Orange Hub, a building the City of Edmonton hopes will be one of the largest non-profit centres in the country.

Two years ago the city announced it was turning the former MacEwan University arts building into a community hub for non-profit organizations. As an artistic director with a performance group, Randall Fraser was very excited.

"Fostering community," said Fraser, who works with the National Stiltwalkers of Canada. "That's something I've been involved in just about my entire arts career."

The not-for-profit collective promotes stilt-walking as an art form and physical activity. The Black Box Theatre in the building met the group's needs for high ceilings and a large space for performances and lessons.

Randall Fraser is the artistic director of the National Stiltwalkers of Canada, a not-for-profit collective promoting stilt-walking as an art form. (National Stiltwalkers of Canada)

The stilt-walkers planned to partner with Theatre Prospero, a non-profit that produces classical theatre and artist-in-residence programs. The two groups spent 50 hours on an application and met with the city to negotiate the price. But they learned the annual fee — $15 per square foot  — was a firm rate.

The group needed close to 3,000 square feet, which would cost nearly $45,000 per year. Fraser said his organization pays $36,000 a year for its current space, so the partnering groups walked away from the lease.

"We were really bending over backwards to try to figure out how to make it work, even given those numbers, and we just couldn't," he said. "I can't justify spending more money for less accessibility."

Without the stilt-walkers group, Theatre Prospero also moved on from its plan to lease Orange Hub's theatre.

"I think that the city failed in its effort to create the noble thing that it was trying to create," said Mark Henderson, artistic director of Theatre Prospero.

Currently, 11 leaseholders occupy about 60 per cent of the space in Orange Hub. The city is targeting an occupancy rate of 80 per cent.

Ellen Finn, a supervisor with City of Edmonton's recreational facilities branch, said the hub is meeting the city's expectations, but the hub is relatively new — tenants moved into the building in April.

A report about Orange Hub's progress, fees and occupancy rates will be presented to city council in January.

"Rates could adjust accordingly, but in addition when we go to city council, if it's their interest to reduce our cost recovery expectations, that puts us in a different position as well," Finn said.

The theatre has no major tenant yet, so the City of Edmonton is managing occasional bookings.