Barrie performing arts centre key piece of the complete-community puzzle

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A special task force is expected to present a strategy to Barrie city council this fall, with suggestions to bring a performing arts centre to the downtown.

Also, back on April 22, councillors authorized the creation of three task forces: the Affordable Housing Task Force, the Market Precinct Task Force, and the one looking for a new theatre site. A recent memo to council provided an update detailing the number of times the committee has met, four to date, as well as progress in the search for a new location.

As might be expected, members concur that the new location should remain the address of the old one: the Fisher Auditorium that was part of the now demolished Central Collegiate at 125 Dunlop St. E..

The original plan to renew the Fisher Auditorium into a state-of-the-art 650-seat theatre/400-seat event centre has been abandoned since COVID-19 shut down the entertainment and tourism sectors and rising costs led council to abandon plans to remake the auditorium.

“The outcome of the Task Force’s work will be the development of a complete project plan, including appropriate key milestones, necessary to execute it including validation of the site location and key needs for the centre necessary to inform its design; establishing a budget, and overall fundraising targets. It is anticipated that the mission/purpose will be fulfilled by the end of 2021 and that members will remain on the task force until that time,” reads a staff report to council.

Ideally, a new performing arts centre would be built alongside a convention centre, as supported by councillor Barry Ward last November.

“We are missing out on economic opportunities,” Ward said.

“Thousands of Barrie residents, at least before the pandemic, were spending a lot of money on conferences which helped other municipalities. We need to get some of those dollars back. I’m confident conferences will return in the future.

“It’s also worth noting that, even without a conference facility, Barrie needs a performing arts centre to replace the aging Georgian Theatre. Having a conference facility attached would help the performing arts centre, but it wouldn’t depend on it.”

The idea of a connected performing arts/conference facility appears to have been sidelined in the new search, at least for now.

The task force has been split into smaller working groups:

  • Working Group 1: to develop a scope of work for an architect that is based on the input of all user groups and the needs of a growing city
  • Working Group 2: to garner community feedback and develop marketing and communications messaging to help obtain community support for the performing arts centre. This will include a public input presence on the city website and by phone as per council direction
  • Working Group 3: fundraising

A progress update is expected in September, via a memo in council.

The long-term goal is to create a complete community that will economic growth and revitalize the downtown core and it’s not the first time council has looked for solutions.

Back in 2011, the downtown BIA with urban ‘renewalist’ Roger Brooks to create a brand for the city centre. Among other measures, he advocated for an enhanced public use of Memorial Square, and a downtown hotel with a conference centre.

All of this is just a reminder that the search for that sense of place, and space, that defines the complete community is an ongoing process. Long-time Barrie residents might remember the drive to put a performing arts centre on the so-called H-block lands, where the downtown library now sits. Progress has been made; Meridian Place and the downtown streetscape project are prime examples. Building the long-sought performing arts centre will be another step along that long road.

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