Barrie ‘building momentum’ for new $53 million performing arts project

rendering Lett Architecture
Lett Architects developed this rendering for the W.A. Fisher Auditorium as part of an earlier feasibility study, before the original structure was demolished in 2021

Ontario Construction News staff writer

The City of Barrie says it will cost about $53 million to build a 66,500 sq. ft. performing arts centre on the former site of the former Fisher auditorium on Dunlop Street West.

On Monday, general committee approved a motion to continue the process.

“This motion is just to keep the momentum going and to get the professionals to take a look,” said Councillor Robert Thomson, a member of the task force. “There will be an opportunity for a price tag and funding, footprint and stuff.”

The W.A. Fisher Auditorium was located within the former Barrie Central Collegiate, the oldest school in Simcoe County built in 1843. The Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) deemed the school prohibitively expensive to refurbish and closed it at the end of the 2016/2017 academic year.

In 2017, HIP Developments purchased Barrie Central Collegiate with plans for a residential development.

During the demolition of the old high school, the auditorium was retained for potential future redevelopment into a downtown cultural space and the city officially acquired the auditorium from HIP Developments in early 2019.

From 2017 to 2020, there have been studies investigating the feasibility of constructing a theatre on the property while retaining the existing auditorium foundation as part of the design, however, in 2021 it was determined that retaining the existing foundation was restricting the development potential of the site.

After eight months of work, a task force concluded the main theatre should have 800 to 900 seats with 60 to 70 per cent on the orchestra level and 600 seats when the balcony is closed. There would also be a secondary 5,000 square foot theatre with 350 seats and multi-purpose space for performances and rehearsals.

The task force recommendations also include about 500 parking spaces for the centre.

“The centre needs to be for everyone,” taskforce member Julie Underhill said in a presentation to committee. “It needs to be for all type of entertainment and entertainers.

“If we start working now, in five years time we will have the (theatre) space.”

If approved by council next week as expected, staff will be directed to engage with a professional firm with expertise in municipal theatre development, design and management to review the recommendations of the task force and report back to general committee detailing recommendations for project timelines, resource requests and project design scope.

An architectural firm will be procured at that point to complete a concept plan and cost estimate for a PAC, and then report to general committee with the proposed concept plan including recommendations for a fundraising program, timelines for construction, and proposed budget, capital budget implications and annual operating budget costing.

“It’s time for us to get building,” Mayor Jeff Lehman said. “That is not to say there aren’t very important steps. There is the critical issue around external funding that’s going to be required, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”


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