Edmonton

'A huge occasion': Expansion of Winspear Centre gets $18M from federal gov't

The federal government has now joined its municipal and provincial counterparts in contributing money to the expansion of the Francis Winspear Centre for Music in Edmonton.

The expansion will include a smaller venue that will seat up to 600 people

A rendering of the Winspear completion project, including a smaller performance venue, classrooms and a daycare centre. (Francis Winspear Centre)

The planned expansion of the Francis Winspear Centre for Music got a significant boost Tuesday when the federal government announced it will contribute $18.1 million to the project in downtown Edmonton.

The total cost of the project is $65 million, which includes funding from all three levels of government as well as about $15 million that the Winspear will generate through silent fundraising efforts.

"I remember the effect that the Winspear Centre had on the psyche of Edmonton in the 1990s," Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault said Tuesday. "This space transformed classical music in Edmonton and around the country."

To this day, the centre is considered "one of the greatest music halls in North America," he said.

The expansion is the finishing touch to the city's cultural district, added Mayor Don Iveson. "This doesn't just complete the Winspear, this completes this part of downtown. So this is a huge occasion."

The municipal and provincial governments had previously announced contributions of $13 million each to the project.

The downtown music venue, which opened in 1997, is home to the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and provides space for community events and programs.

The expansion will include a smaller venue to seat up to 600 people. Instead of fixed seating, it will have a hydraulic lift system that can change the configuration from a flat floor to bleacher-style seating, meaning the facility can be used for concert and dance performances as well as events like banquets.

"Today, people are looking for more intimate experiences," said Annemarie Petrov, the Winspear's president and CEO. "So we want to create a space where we can have [500] to 600 people, and even smaller spaces than that."

The new theatre, which Petrov describes as a "music box," will have the same acoustic features as the Winspear's main hall, she said.

The expansion is the completion of the original dream that Francis Winspear had for the facility, a plan was scaled back to stay within its $35 million budget, she said.

The renovation will also include some smaller multi-purpose rooms to be used as classroom space for school programs.

The soil under the parking lot facing 97th Street has to undergo remediation before construction of the building can begin. (Emilio Avalos/CBC)

Last week, crews started digging up the adjacent parking lot, which faces 97th Street, where the expansion will be built, Petrov said.

The parking lot used to be home to a gas station that serviced Edmonton police vehicles. Oil spills have contaminated the soil and remediation work is underway, she said.

The site was also the location of a police horse stable; digging has already turned up 16 horseshoes.

While 90 surface parking spaces will be lost as a result, the project includes additional underground parking spaces for about 140 vehicles.

Construction of the expansion is slated to begin in January 2020 with completion in 2022, the same year that the Winspear will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

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