City council votes down funding for downtown chamber building

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Performing Arts Society still considered for Capital Partnership Program

Council expressed interest in a performing arts centre Monday, but decided the city will not help fund a downtown building for the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce.

The 200-seat venue, proposed by the St. Albert Performing Arts Society, is supposed to become an alternative to larger theatres, offering space for drama, dance and musical performances, including a dinner theatre.

The project is expected to cost $15 million, with the city being asked to pay $5 million through its Capital Partnership Program.

Council made no decision about funding the project Monday but voted in favour of letting the society return with a more detailed business plan.

“What we see to date is worthy of moving forward,” said Coun. Wes Brodhead.

The city-funded Capital Partnership Program offers to pay one-third or up to $5 million for a new facility build by a community organization, such as a not-for-profit charity or academic institution.

That contribution can be made in money, but also through land or other in-kind offerings. The money comes from city coffers and the project has to meet certain eligibility requirements.

Eligible projects can include facilities meant for recreation, major attractions, culture, community gathering, adding to the city’s “smart” capacity or enhancing the city’s competitiveness.

In a report to council, city administration said it received four business cases this year. One, by Dynamyx Gymnastics Club, will be resubmitted in December.

Another one was withdrawn. The other two were by the Performing Arts Society and the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber first presented a proposal for its five-storey office building to city council in February. The building was planned to sit across the street from St. Albert Place along St. Anne Street, where there is now a surface parking lot.

It was expected to include 40,000 square feet of office space, 10,000 square feet of retail space and a parkade for 500 cars. The cost of the project was estimated at $50 million.

On Monday, city administration said that a review committee said the project should not proceed to the next stage, which is preparing a more detailed business case.

Among other things, the report said the chamber relied heavily on city research for office space and parking demand and revenue assumptions appeared unrealistic.

Council voted against approving the project for the program.

“I know that parking in the downtown area is a considerable need,” said Brodhead. “How that plays out in the future is a project the city as a whole needs to undertake.”

The St. Albert Performing Arts Society will also have to follow up with more detailed information on funding options and market research on the need for its facility. But it received a higher score in the overall committee review.

Asked by council what the society would do without the city’s $5 million contribution, president Michael McElroy said it would be difficult to move forward.

He said the other $10 million needed for the project would come from federal and provincial funding, and from private donors. But they also need the city’s endorsement to be taken seriously.

“I think it’s very important,” he said.

He explained that the society wants to create a facility that can be used for a number of purposes, including weddings or a dinner theatre.

The theatre would be a way to generate money but at its heart the facility would be a home to the city’s performing art groups to practice and store equipment.

“We appreciate the agreements we have with the schools and the city… but we are maxed out,” he said.

He added that the facility would be built on land owned by the Grace Family Church and the society could use the church’s 68 parking spots.

Administration also told council that the facility is not likely to be a competition to the Arden Theatre.

While councillors voted in favour of letting the society return with a more detailed business plan, Coun. Sheena Hughes and Coun. Cam MacKay cautioned that they do not know where the $5 million would come from at this time.

Coun. Tim Osborne, however, said it’s not often that the city gets the opportunity “to get a $15 million facility for $5 million.”

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