City greenlights $20m theatre hub for False Creek in latest investment in arts, cultural space

Today’s unanimous council vote to approve a new $20 million rehearsal and theatre space in Southeast False Creek will add 48,330 square feet to the city’s arts infrastructure, support two key theatre organizations, create a 250-seat theatre and support 80 to 150 jobs, depending on the season.

But the warm feelings in the council chamber came at the end of a rocky road that underlines how tough it is to provide solid support to our arts organizations, something to keep in mind next time you hear demands that the city “do more to protect arts space” in the city.

The Wall Production Centre,  as it’s called, is on the site of the former warehouse and storage centre of the Playhouse Theatre Co., which went out of business in 2012, in part because it was forced to move out of  the area to allow redevelopment. The Playhouse went out of business, despite its access to the Playhouse Theatre, unable to wait for the new centre to be built or to pay for it to be outfitted.

The Wall project rezoning for the condominiums on the site  included a community amenity contribution of $7.6 million to build a replacement for the old theatre storage space, but for that in-kind contribution the city got only an unfinished shell. Millions more would be required to fit out the new space.

It took several years to land a deal involving the Arts Club and Bard on the Beach to take over the space. The city added $7 million from capital funds and the two theatre organizations will raise another $5.8 million.

But the project makes sense: both Arts Club and Bard will be able to consolidate operations in a brand new building, helping ensure a strong future for two of the city’s most important theatre companies.

So from the ashes of the Playhouse rises the Wall Production Centre, an enduring new asset for the city’s cultural organizations.