The City of Nanaimo announced that the Port Theatre has been denied a $15.5-million government grant to fund its community performing arts centre expansion project. (News Bulletin file photo)

Port Theatre expansion project halts following denial of $15.5-million grant

Plans for community performing arts centre have been ongoing for more than 30 years

A long-planned expansion to the Port Theatre is on hold after failing to secure a $15.5-million government grant.

This week the City of Nanaimo, which co-manages the venue with the Port Theatre Society, announced in a press release that the Port Theatre community performing arts centre expansion project was denied funding from the federal-provincial Investing in Community Infrastructure Program.

“The program was vastly over-subscribed, and the official notification stated clearly that there was recognition of the importance of this project to the community despite not being funded,” said Diana Johnstone, Port Theatre Society board president, in the release.

The need for the community performing arts centre, a 50- to 240-seat performance and rehearsal space, was identified in the Port Theatre’s original 1986-88 feasibility study. Port Theatre general manager Bruce Halliday said $600,000 has already been raised and spent on design, as the project needed to be “shovel ready” to qualify for the ICIP grant.

The estimated cost of the expansion is $21.2 million, according to the release, and Halliday said “there’s no way to move forward without the $15.5 million.” He said the plan was for the theatre to raise $2 million and once that money plus the ICIP grant were in place the City of Nanaimo would pitch in $4.6 million as per a 2014 commitment.

“On behalf of myself and council, we are extremely disappointed that the Port Theatre community performing arts centre expansion project has been denied funding,” Mayor Leonard Krog said in the release. “We all recognize what an important project this is to the City of Nanaimo.”

The release noted that the purpose of the community performing arts centre is to “provide affordable, suitable and accessible space for a diverse set of community users and local and touring performance artists,” and Johnstone said missing out on the ICIP grant won’t stop the theatre from pursuing that goal.

“The Port Theatre Society has been committed to expanding the performance and rehearsal opportunities for our community for many years,” she said in the release. “While we are deeply disappointed in not being selected for funding from the ICIP grant, our dedication to building a strong and vibrant cultural sector will remain undaunted.”

RELATED: Nanaimo’s Port Theatre closes indefinitely in response to COVID-19

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