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Build it, they will come

A new $16-million arts centre could be up and running in northwestern HRM within five years. But it’s still a long way from reality

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Last June, the Cobequid Cultural Society (CCS) revealed its design for an arts centre that could be coming soon to the Bedford-Sackville area. It showed a 31,000-square-foot, two-storey glass building with a 700-seat auditorium, orchestra pit and multiple practice spaces and studios. “It’ll be the nicest looking building this side of the Metro Centre,” says CCS president Don Flemming. The price tag will likely be $16 million.

Ambitious? Absolutely. But Flemming is sure they’ll meet that financial goal and have shovels in the ground by fall 2017. “We won’t fail,” he says. “In Halifax, you’ve got the Neptune Theatre, in Dartmouth you have Alderney Crossing, and in the west you’ve got the Bella Rose. But there’s nothing out here. The people in this area—which goes from Tantallon to Mount Uniacke to Waverley to Bedford—want it. They will support it.”

Two of them are Margaret and Ralph Lynas, who own and operate Come-Dance Associates. They’ve been teaching ballroom and Latin American dance in Bedford, Sackville and Halifax for 26 years, and say that if this centre is built they, along with their students and audiences, will come. “If there was something out here, I know very well it would be used,” says Margaret. “There is a big area this would service. Downtown is not as convenient in terms of parking, for example, and with a centre like this, everything that can be done in the city could be done out here.”

Flemming is staying tight-lipped about a potential location for now, but he did hint in February that the CCS is close to securing a land deal. “I can tell you that if you think the Chicken Burger in Bedford is a good location, you will love this spot, which will have 20,000 to 30,000 people seeing it every day of the week.”

Other than finalizing that land deal, there are questions about the feasibility of such an ambitious project, however. First among them is cash. The CCS has been raising funds through events like their Valentine’s dance at the Halifax Forum, and Flemming says that people from the area are already asking how they can donate, but the organization will also have to find provincial grants if they’re going to reach that $16-million goal.

To land those grants, they’ll have to drum up the support of city councillors—something they’re now in the process of doing—and although many councillors are onboard with an arts centre in the area, they also have concerns. Bedford-Wentworth Councillor Tim Outhit, for example, is hoping that it won’t be a stand-alone facility. “We’ve seen in the past on the Bedford waterfront that businesses have tried, but there just weren’t enough people coming and going all the time,” he says. “But if you link facilities like this with transportation terminals or libraries or whatever is going to generate constant traffic, then those businesses will survive.”

Flemming would answer Outhit’s concern by pointing at the design, which includes spaces for retail and service businesses, such as a Tim Hortons, on the periphery. The rent generated from those businesses would help sustain the arts centre.

“Yes, but then you have to make sure it’s not something that’s only used occasionally for performing arts,” says Outhit. “And the worst thing we could have for these businesses is that they only have customers when the facility is being used. For example, if you just put a store or restaurant in Neptune Theatre, would they be busy all the time? So what you want is something that’s drawing people there constantly.”

They’re valid concerns, and they’re ones the CCS will have to address and find answers to if they’re going to raise this centre. But Flemming sticks to his guns. “We will meet the financial goal, and we will raise this building,” he says. “It will happen.”

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