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$94-million performing arts complex to revitalize St. Catharines, Ontario downtown

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The city of St. Catharines and Brock University have retained Toronto’s Diamond + Schmitt Architects to design a $94 million performing arts complex in the city’s downtown core.
Historic textile mill to be converted into performing arts complex in St. Catharines
Historic textile mill to be converted into performing arts complex in St. Catharines

The city of St. Catharines and Brock University have retained Toronto’s Diamond + Schmitt Architects to design a $94 million performing arts complex in the city’s downtown core.

The project involves construction of the new St. Catharines Performing Arts Centre as well as the adaptive re-use of a historic textile mill as a teaching and performance space for Brock’s fine arts and performing arts program.

The complex is expected to serve as a catalyst for redevelopment of the city’s downtown.

The development will be complemented by construction of a new municipal parking garage on Carlisle Street.

The design phase for both projects is expected to begin in March. Construction is scheduled to get under way by early next year. No decisions have been made on whether a general contractor or construction manager will be hired.

“Working on both projects, which are adjacent, really opens up the potential to weave the various threads of topography, heritage, partnership, creativity and culture into a dynamic combination on an amazing site,” said Donald Schmitt, a principal in Diamond + Schmitt.

The area for development includes frontage on St. Catharines’ main thoroughfare, St. Paul Street.

The hillside complex consists of two complementary projects: the 700-seat performing arts centre at the top of the hill and nestled below, the new home of Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

Located in a 19th century building that once housed the Canada Hair Cloth mill, the school will contain more than 100,000 square feet of space, including a 250- to 300-seat dramatic arts theatre.

The project will bring 500 students and faculty into the city centre.

Schmitt, whose firm has designed a number of major performing arts venues, including Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts and the New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, said the task now “is to engage the citizens of St. Catharines and the university community in a dialogue, to listen and learn, so that we build a centre that truly reflects their aspirations.

“We’re strong believers in that’s how you get it right.”

The federal and provincial governments are jointly providing $36 million for the $54 million performing arts centre while the Ontario government is contributing $26.2 million to the Walker School, which has a construction budget of $39.6 million.

In the span of four days, St. Catharines city council and Brock University’s board of trustees chose Diamond + Schmitt to design both of the projects.

In southern Ontario, the firm’s credits include performing arts centres in Burlington, Cambridge and Richmond Hill.

“Diamond and Schmitt brings a wealth of experience to the table and is the firm we feel best interprets our vision to create a truly innovative, state-of-the-art performing arts centre,” said St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan.

Douglas Kneale, dean of Brock’s Faculty of Humanities, said transferring the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts from the main campus to a repurposed historic building downtown and being next door to the new performing arts centre represents “a massive leap forward” for students and educators.

“The advances will benefit multiple departments across our faculty,” he said. “From both an academic and a creative point of view, these facilities will bring many new opportunities for creative intersections of dramatic arts, music and visual arts, not just intellectually but spatially and physically.”

by Patricia Williams

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