Port Theatre dusts off plans for expansion

NANAIMO – An open house is being held for a $12-million expansion project at Nanaimo's Port Theatre.

Nanaimo’s Port Theatre Society is dusting off plans to build a multi-million dollar community performing arts studio.

Beginning next week the Port Theatre Society will host a series of open houses to re-introduce plans to construct a $12-million community performing arts centre.

The project was shelved in 2009 after the non-profit was denied $7.8 million from senior levels of government, but Port Theatre manager Bruce Halliday believes “the time is right on many levels” to try again. There’s corporate interest in naming rights, the potential for federal dollars and more energy in the Harbour City around arts and culture than ever before, he said, pointing to the new cultural plan and Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation’s economic impact study on the arts.

The building, an addition to the Port Theatre, is 19,000 square feet and four-levels with three rehearsal halls and a small performance area that Halliday says would be more suited to smaller events than the current 800-seat theatre and cater to audiences seeking alternative, intimate spaces. The society also plans it to be affordable and of a calibre that would attract both international touring professionals and community groups.

“This addition is being built for the community users. If this isn’t affordable to these users, we shouldn’t build it,” he said. “Of course when we talk about affordable it doesn’t mean free, but this will be very competitive with the various options that [community groups] have now.”

The goal is to open the new centre in 2017 to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday and fill it with more than 200 shows each year. Funding will be sought from the provincial and federal government and eventually the city will be involved, according to Halliday, who says it’s too early to talk about whether the municipality will pay for the build.

“The first step before we talk about money is to talk about, is there interest in building it?,” he said.

The city’s culture and heritage planner Chris Sholberg said he understands the society plans to make a pitch to council this fall, asking for a commitment of dollars toward the project.

An open house for the proposed centre will be held Thursday (May 22) from 4-8 p.m. at the Port Theatre lobby. There will also be a panel discussion at 6:30 p.m. on June 5.