Council to vote today on new downtown arts complex proposal

After a long history of stops and starts, Vancouver city council is ready to breathe new life into a proposal for a major new arts complex downtown.

The facility, which would house a concert hall and theatre, is earmarked for the former bus-depot lands behind the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Council votes today (July 24) on a cultural precinct, which would encompass Georgia Street from False Creek to Stanley Park and include the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the CBC building, Library Square, and other arts institutions.

The office of cultural affairs recommendations include grants up to $325,000 to the Vancouver Concert Hall and Theatre Society to conduct feasibility studies on the proposed complex. “It’s super exciting. It’s a huge moment for the city and for the region,” said David Pay, a board member for the society.

First proposed in 1991, a Coal Harbour Arts Complex was approved and funded by the city in 2001, but was bumped from a prospective site at the north end of Burrard Street by the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre expansion project, and its future has since remained in doubt.

The turning point came this spring, when the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra threw its support behind the project. Sue Harvey, the city’s managing director of cultural services, told the Straight, “Certainly it did improve the viability, no question about it.”

Pay explained that the original plans for a 1,800-seat lyric hall have been updated to accommodate the VSO. The complex now boasts a 1,950-seat concert hall, with the proposed 450-seat theatre remaining unchanged. “The difference now is that there’s no fly tower and no wings [in the larger hall],” he said. “It’s not being built to use for theatre; it’s being built to use for music.”

Alan Gove, the VSO’s vice president for marketing and sales, told the Straight: “It’s very intriguing to us, the idea of performing in a brand-new concert hall specifically designed for the presentation of acoustic music”¦in a facility that will be on the cutting edge of acoustics and acoustic design. If all comes to be as it is being planned, then we would look to move our concert operations away from the Orpheum and to the new concert hall.”

Harvey said that, if the arts complex were to be built, the role of the Orpheum would have to be revisited. She also hinted at the possibility of the complex being a civic theatre, saying, “The adjacency next door to the [other] civic theatres certainly provides the opportunity for some efficiencies.”

Council also votes today on grants of up to $466,000 to aid the Vancouver Art Gallery in finalizing its plans to move to a new building at the Plaza of Nations site. The VAG had originally planned to move to the former bus-depot site, but was offered the alternate False Creek location by Premier Gordon Campbell in a surprise announcement in May.

Council will also decide whether to hold off on decisions regarding the former bus-depot lands at 150 Dunsmuir Street for 180 days, while the VAG conducts its studies.