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Proposed Barrie performing arts center look unveiled

Dozens of Barrie residents turned out Wednesday evening to the first of two public meetings focussed on bringing a new performing arts centre to the city.

At city hall, the talk of a new centre to host various artistic performances has been going on for years. On Wednesday, Hariri Pontarini Architects unveiled its latest renderings for a facility that would be housed on the former grounds of the W.A. Fisher Auditorium.

The firm, which is based in Toronto and specializes in performing arts centres, says its current proposal is known as a Cultural Hub model.

"These facilities need to invite in a diverse audience, have diverse programming, have education, be open morning, noon and night and be really active in the community," says Lindsay Hockman, an associate with the firm leading this project. "So it's a completely different model, it's a complete shift, and we're really excited about it. That was our jumping-off point."

The proposal would see a main theatre of about 600 seats, a smaller recital hall, and a film screening room.

According to a staff report presented to city councillors earlier this month, the idea behind the cultural hub model is to have a facility that is used throughout the day, bringing the community together and potentially helping with revenue streams.

"I think from the city's perspective, we want something that can be used throughout the day and the evening, not just a standalone evening facility," says Mayor Alex Nuttall, who attended Wednesday's meeting. "I think also from the city's perspective; we want to understand what the feedback is coming from the community, coming from the performing arts community here."

Hariri Pontarini Architects is no stranger to Barrie. The firm of approximately 150 people designed the Maclaren Art Centre as well.

"Barrie has a special place in the heart of our firm," Hockman says. "The Maclaren Centre was one of the first projects in our firm, so to be at the other end of the cultural corridor many years later, it's exciting!"

The firm recently won a Governor General's Award for its work on the Tom Patterson Theatre in Stratford, which just opened last year.

The project is in its early stages. The firm is collecting public feedback during this week's meetings. Another report will eventually be brought forward to councillors, where changes may be made to the proposal based on what they hear.

The mayor says councillors will have to consider the eventual cost of the project and weigh it compared to other capital projects on the radar, which include upgrades to the Sadlon Arena and support for Royal Victoria Hospital's capital campaign, amongst others.

"We've got to take all of the information in, gage it, make prudent business decisions on behalf of the City of Barrie that have a very strong effect for the people of Barrie in terms of having a complete community," Nuttall said.

The project can't come soon enough for many members of Barrie's art community.

One resident in attendance is a member of two different groups, the Huronia Symphony and the Baytowne Big Band, and says a proper performance space is needed.

"Right now, we're at a church in Barrie using their facilities. So we have to use their gymnasium to rehearse…and then when we perform, we actually have to remove pews in the church to allow our orchestra to fit in to do a performance."

A second public meeting will be held tomorrow at 4 p.m. at the Peggy Hill Community Centre. Top Stories

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