The long-awaited Arts Commons expansion is taking a step forward as the process of hiring a design and construction team begins.
The Calgary Municipal Land Corp. announced Friday that it’s starting the design process for the $240-million project. But Kate Thompson, CLMC president and CEO, said once the team is hired next year and begins work, Calgarians will have to wait until 2022 to see what the future Arts Commons might look like.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi said while shovels aren’t yet in the ground, this marks a significant milestone.
“It’s a big day because it’s moving forward a project that people have been dreaming about and hoping for so many years,” he said.
City council voted last year to release $22.5 million for Arts Commons expansion work from a pool of capital funds set aside for four major projects, including the BMO Centre renovation, new arena and field house.
The City of Calgary and the provincial government have committed $135 million that will be funded by revenue generated by the Rivers District community revitalization levy. During the 2019 election, the Liberals pledged $80 million for Arts Commons , but a funding agreement isn’t yet in place.
Assuming that funding commitment comes through, the earliest the new Arts Commons might open would be 2026.
The Arts Commons transformation project is split into two phases, which will each cost a little more than $200 million. The first piece would see a completely new building constructed adjacent to the existing Arts Commons, containing three new venues. The second phase would see a renovation to the existing building, which opened in 1985 and faces problems with capacity and needed repairs.
That piece of the project remains unfunded, but the coming design process will include that work in its overall strategy.
Alex Sarian, Arts Commons president and CEO, added that he sees an opportunity for Calgary to “lead the way” on how arts venues reinvent themselves after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Prime design consultants and theatre design consultants are champing at the bit to become a part of this process … because they see this as one of the first performing arts centres in the world to be designed after COVID hit,” he said.
“You look at how performing arts or the arts world, in general, is struggling to come back and revive after COVID, a huge part of that is because we are working in venues designed for a different reality.”