Calling it an opportunity too good to pass up, the Brantford Arts Block has announced that it has abandoned its plan to build the Brantford Centre for the Arts in downtown Brantford.
Instead, the arts collective will partner with real estate developer Howard Rotberg to move the arts centre to the Brantford Artisans’ Village in West Brant.
Executive director Josh Bean said the Arts Block had no concerns with the former Union Gas building on Colborne Street, but that the West Brant location offers more potential for the arts community.
“We started to run out of space at the other building and there were a few limitations,” Bean said. “This building just made a little more sense.”
The 33,000-square-foot heritage industrial building – one of the former Brantford Cordage factory buildings at 111 Sherwood Dr. restored by Rotberg as part of his newly opened Artisans’ Village – will include a theatre with 40-foot ceilings, recording studios, an art gallery, print-making studio and photography studio, among other features.
New to the design is rehearsal space for bands and office space for community groups, as well as private studio space for individual artists. Mohawk College will get more space for continuing education programs.
There are also 350 parking spots at the new site, versus 16 at the Union Gas building, Bean added.
Bean said the Arts Block had long been in discussions with Rotberg about collaborating with the new artisans’ village and cultural district.
“I think this is going to be a huge asset to the community and really support arts and culture in Brantford,” Bean said of the $1.5 million project. “I’m really excited about it.”
The arts organizations that will become involved with the reborn arts centre share Bean’s enthusiasm.
“They liked the other project, but they love this project,” he said.
Though they look forward to opening a bigger and better arts centre in West Brant, the Arts Block is sad to see the project leave the downtown core.
“That was definitely the biggest challenge,” Bean said. “But it’s not that far from downtown.”
Bean thinks there is potential for West Brant to develop into an artistic hub resembling Toronto’s Distillery District.
“The site is a lot of fun to hang out at – there’s trees and trails and it’s a little more conducive to being creative,” he said.
Foot-dragging at city council over $300,000 in capital funding for the arts centre motivated the Arts Block to look elsewhere, Bean said.
“I wouldn’t say it was a deciding factor, but it might have been the impetus to start considering other spaces,” he said of repeated deferrals and delays. “It sort of stalled the process.”
Had the city approved the money to keep the project moving, the proposed arts centre likely could have remained downtown, Bean said.
“I think so, because we had everything lined up to go once that funding came through,” he said. “So I think that’s really the only reason (the group looked to move).”
The new location saves the Arts Block $700,000 in capital renovation costs, but the project still needs additional funding to come to fruition.
Bean said the Arts Block is still in talks with the city, whose support is key to secure funding from provincial agencies. The fact that the Arts Block is leasing the building directly from the Artisans’ Village over 20 years may help ease council’s concerns about ownership.
The Arts Block will join an array of artisans – including a woodworker, rope maker, printer, boat restorer and candle maker – who currently have shops or storefronts at the village.
“The Artisans’ Village wasn’t on the radar when we entered into our previous lease agreement,” said Arts Block board chair David Borenstein. “However, after extensively researching this new opportunity and consulting with our partners, we determined that this new site better meets our organization’s needs and the needs of the local arts community.”
“West Brant is one of Brantford’s fastest growing areas,” said city Coun. Jan Vanderstelt. “The new location will be a terrific asset for that part of town. This is a prime example of what can happen when a community works with determination, vision and hope for a healthy future for the arts.”
Local builder Dalip Multani of Multani Custom Homes has joined the project to complete the necessary renovations to the future arts centre, including a new roof and ventilation system, sewer extension, new doors and restored historical windows. The centre is projected to open in spring 2013.