Wayne Ayling, Grande Prairie Live Theatre general manager, looks over the theatres lighting booth in Grande Prairie, Alta. on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. Wayne says the city is need of a Ҡlarge, soft-seat, multi-use performance theatre and convention center.ӠA 2010 city report identified it as a need. Ayling notes that a convention centre with multi-use rooms should also be considered which he says would create revenue for the city. (Photo by Jesse Boily)Jesse Boily

City council will re-ignite a discussion of a new performing arts centre later this month. 

Coun. Grant Berg noted the need for a dedicated performing arts centre after the approval of the city’s Recreation and Culture Strategy on Jan. 29.

“I was so excited back in 2010 when a report came out that Grande Prairie was due for a performing arts centre,” said Berg. 

He says a performing arts centre is still missing in the community. 

The Recreation and Culture Strategy report has a single mention of the performing arts centre, something Berg noted could be easily missed or forgotten. 

“I’ve actually been on different committees throughout my life where the report comes out, and it gets shelved and it disappears, so what I wanted to do was make sure that that doesn’t happen,” said Berg.

He envisions the centre being a 1,000 to 1,250 seat concert hall.

A 2010 Cultural Master Plan identified the need for a new performing arts centre in the city. The plan indicates that it could be an opportunity for many groups, such as the Grande Prairie Live Theatre (GPLT), the Grande Prairie Boys Choir, as well as dance and cultural groups to work under one roof. 

Berg noted a feasibility study was done in 2016 found the city is large enough, but believes now more information on what Grande Prairie needs is required, including capacity and site and other amenities. 

“What Grande Prairie needs going forward is a large, soft-seat, multi-use performance theatre and convention centre,” said Wayne Ayling, GPLT general manager.

Ayling has worked with many different productions in the area and has seen GPLT evolve from an abandoned tire shop to what it is today.

“Conventions bring in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars into a community in a year.” 

Ayling said he remembers having a conversation many years ago with the late Helen Rice, who told him that for each delegate at a conference, a spin-off of about $350 a day goes to food, drinks, shopping and hotels. 

“A large theatre can get us internationally and nationally top-of-the-line entertainers; they can go to the Jubilee auditorium for 2,200 seats and come here on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday for 1,200 seats and make some money for everyone,” said Ayling.

He said a large theatre will also attract entertainers who do not want to play in hockey arenas but instead prefer a theatre with superb acoustics. 

“By combining conferences and larger acts with community use, then we end up with a 365-day facility that will be very appropriate for this region,” said Ayling.

In 1955, Edmonton and Calgary were gifted the Jubilee Auditoriums from the province with 2,200 seats, noted Ayling. He said the trading area population of each city at the time was about 350,000. Today, Grande Prairie’s trading area population is about 300,000 so he believes the time is now for a similar venue.

The 161-seat GPLT and the KMSC Law Performing Arts Theatre which opened in 2018 with 308 seats fills the need for medium-sized theatres, said Ayling. The city also has the Douglas J. Cardinal Performing Arts Centre (508 seats) and the Collins Recital Hall (150 seats) at Northwestern Polytechnic. The black box theatre will no longer be in use with the expansion of the power engineering program at the NWP. 

He said GPLT is turning away shows, noting GPLT put on seven plays and seven concerts last year for 68 nights of entertainment. It also hosted an additional 40 community, business, touring and school events. 

“There are times that GPLT (has) rehearsals every night of the week, and we’re still trying to perform on Thursday, Friday, Saturday,” said Ayling. 

He says considerations for a new centre should include underground parking and adding residential suites to the top floors that could generate revenue.

According to Ayling, another consideration overlooked in the 2016 study is an enclosed loading/unloading area, much like the one at Ovintiv Events Centre in Dawson Creek. Ayling said performances will come with trucks carrying millions of dollars of equipment; if the loading area is outside, they will not want to use the venue.

He hopes that a future performing arts centre will follow a European-style theatre with u-shape balconies which he says allows for easy expansion of seats. He said the European theatre style – with an overall smaller building footprint – has been successful, noting the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia. 

The 2016 feasibility study estimated the cost of a performing arts facility to be about $100 million and placed it in the city centre next to the Montrose Cultural Centre.

Coun. Chris Thiessen said he believes there would be funding opportunities from federal and provincial governments.

Council will discuss adding the Performing Arts Centre to its Advocacy Priorities at the next Council Committee of the Whole Meeting Feb. 14. 

Coun. Dylan Bressey said he doesn’t believe city council has ever advocated for a specific building in the past but says he thinks it would be a successful venture, noting other municipalities have been successful.

He said he believes the discussion should be whether council wants administration to begin work on the project so it can be added to the advocacy list later, when the city is prepared to advocate with precisely what it wants to build and the costs involved. 

“It’s not like these are disposable buildings when they’re done right; they last for generations,” said Berg.

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 08, 2024 at 10:00

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

Comments are Welcome - Use the 'Join the Discussion' above any replies, or 'TheRegional / Chat' below replies. Both links take you to the same place. You will be asked to become a registered user if you are not one already - Posts are moderated