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Picture painted of Langley's ideal theatre

The Act theatre in Maple Ridge is among the facilities looked at by a committee struck last summer to determine the feasibility of building a dedicated performing arts centre in Langley. On Monday, consultant Brenda Beck presented the committee
The Act theatre in Maple Ridge is among the facilities looked at by a committee struck last summer to determine the feasibility of building a dedicated performing arts centre in Langley. On Monday, consultant Brenda Beck presented the committee's findings to both municipal councils.
— image credit: Colleen FLANAGAN/Black Press

The ideal performing arts centre for Langley would seat between 600 and 650 people in its main proscenium-style auditorium, with room for another 200 seats in a smaller, multi-purpose studio theatre.

It would include an orchestra pit, dressing rooms, technical support space, a public gathering area and a lobby that could double as gallery space.  A café, gift shop and catering kitchen would also fit well within the design.

These are among the conclusions of an advisory planning committee, formed last year to determine the feasibility of building a dedicated performing arts theatre  in Langley.

Brenda Beck of B.E. Beck and Associates provided both Township and City councils with an overview of the group's findings on Monday, April 7.

The 10-member advisory planning committee — which included representatives from both municipalities, Langley's two universities and the Langley School District — looked at the size and types of theatre space currently available in Langley, as well as what is offered within a 25-kilometre — or 30-minute driving — radius of the community.

They spoke with local theatre, music and dance companies, as well as visual artists, about what each organization would like to see included in a new theatre.

Community demographics were also taken into account during the study, which was funded through $10,000 contributions from each of the five participating groups.

Within the two Langleys, 11 existing performance spaces were identified, ranging in size from the 79-seat Langley Playhouse in Brookswood to the Langley Events Centre, which has a capacity of 4,500 in its arena bowl.

The survey also included high schools, a casino show lounge, a community hall and a church.

On their own, none of the facilities identified by the committee offers all the desired elements of a dedicated performing arts centre, Beck noted.

In order to build a theatre that meets all the committee's recommendations and provides sufficient surface parking, a 4.2 acre parcel of land would be necessary, Beck explained.

The committee estimated the total cost (excluding land) would be between $30 million and $37 million if the theatre was built today.

Beck added that the numbers don't include site acquisition fees or development cost charges, nor do they account for inflation.

"It's pretty preliminary at this point in time," she said.

The funding formula proposed in the report calls for "the community" to cover between 40 and 70 per cent of the cost.

For a $37 million structure, that amount would range from $15 million to $26 million.

In addition, the committee suggests that 15 to 20 per cent could come from the province, another five to 10 per cent from the federal government, five to 15 per cent from corporate sponsorships and five to 15 per cent from general fundraising.

It was the first number that caught the attention of City Councillors.

"The 40 to 70 per cent from the community — I assume that's us?" asked Councillor Jack Arnold, following Beck's presentation.

The way the funding formula is set up — including a proposed annual grant of $140,000 to keep the theatre revenue neutral — is flexible, Beck replied.

Rental rates were estimated at a conservative level and could be set higher to increase revenue, she explained.

The funding structure is not written in stone either, she added.

"If one partner organization took on the maintenance, there could be an in-kind allowance for that," said Beck.

"And a not-for-profit society is projected to run this. What if the not-for-profit goes belly-up — who assumes the risk?" Arnold asked.

Beck replied that it would likely fall to the partners.

The City is already committed to the construction of a new Timms Community Centre, at an estimated cost of $17 million, noted Councillor Dave Hall.

"This (theatre) project is $30 million to $37 million with an escalation factor of four per cent per year."

A project of this scope won't happen overnight, he noted.

"Five to 10 years down the road, we could be looking at $50 million.

"Have any players shown anything in the way of green?," he asked.

Where the theatre is built is another concern for the City, noted Hall.

"Location is a prime consideration for anything the City is involved with," he said. "The closer it is, the more economic spinoff for the City."

Councillor Gayle Martin asked how the study would hold up if it was to be shelved for 10 years, or whether the entire process would have to begin from scratch if nothing came of the report within the next decade.

Beck replied that because the findings are flexible and relate to a theatre with a mid-range seating capacity, it would likely hold up well.

"It would probably stand the test of time better than a large one would."

"A performing arts centre would be wonderful," said Martin. "But there's no guarantee it would happen.

"If we wait five years, it will probably be $47 million. I'd like some kind of assurance (about) where are we going to go?

"A lot of times, governments do studies and they sit on the shelf and gather dust."

City CAO Francis Cheung, who sat on the committee, said the group's mandate had been fulfilled and that no further plans exist to explore funding options.

"It may be a topic for (the next) joint council meeting between the City and the Township," he said.

Earlier in the day, Township Council received the same report with minimal comment.

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