Three designs have been drafted for a potential new creative hub and suite of art studios in downtown Fort St. John, with a proposed expansion of the North Peace Cultural Centre topping the list of recommended locations.
The designs are a starting point for the Fort St. John Arts Council, which has been conducting a feasibility study on building a new hub since last summer, and with a final report now making the rounds of local governments in the North Peace.
“Existing facilities and programs are at capacity. In order to grow programming, a dedicated facility is desperately needed,” reads the report from Expedition Management Consulting, and financed with the support of Canadian Heritage, the City of Fort St. John, the District of Taylor, and the Peace River Regional District.
“The Creative Hub will be a transformative place for Fort St. John. The facility will catalyze cultural development in the community by providing a unique and interesting place for multicultural expression, innovation, and community connection.”
The Arts Council was founded in 1970 and currently operates out of the ArtsPost on 94 Avenue. But the arts community has grown exponentially over the last 50 years, with 500 members active in local and regional cultural groups and more than 3,000 people regularly participating in programming, according to the report. Cultural events reach 35,000 people every year.
Groups including the Potters Guild and the Spinners and Weavers Guild are unable to grow without more space, while the Country Quilters Guild and Flying Colours Artists Association are both looking for designated community space, according to the report.
“In addition to these organizations, the North Peace Cultural Centre welcomes over 100,000 visitors each year and would like to expand their programming,” the report says. “All of these organizations would benefit greatly from additional programming space that could be provided through a creative hub. If a new facility is built, it is anticipated that membership in existing arts groups will increase significantly, along with ongoing programs and events in the community related to creative pursuits.”
The feasibility study has identified three potential options for a creative hub, including a second-floor expansion of the North Peace Cultural Centre, opened in 1992, or building anew on the city-owned vacant lot across the street at 100 and 100, where the Fort Hotel used to be.
The study proposes a multi-phase building program for either of the options, with a first phase including 11,644 to 12,859 square feet of space for new pottery, fibre arts, and printmaking studios, as well as a performing arts rehearsal space, a lounge, multipurpose rooms, and retail gallery space.
A second phase could include 6,075 to 7,695 square feet for new woodworking, metalworking, and glassblowing shops, a commercial kitchen and cafe, and an outdoor firing kiln and art yard.
The report says a new creative hub would “produce a wide range of positive social economic impacts,” among them supporting industry investment and employee retention, and positioning Fort St. John as a “unique place to visit.”
“Programming will be significantly enhanced from its current state, which is primarily focused on user groups,” the report says. “A new focus on public programs and events is an exciting new opportunity for the Arts Council to provide programming that will be accessible to all and facilitate the development of the arts in Fort St. John and surrounding region.”
The feasibility study and its designs are still preliminary, a guideline studying the demand and desire for a new arts centre, and a necessary first step to move forward with potential partners and funders. The report identifies at least $17 million in capital financing available through the federal and provincial governments, as well as the Northern Development Initiative Trust.
Check out more artist renderings and learn more about the proposed options below:
Option A - North Peace Cultural Centre expansion
“Expansion of the North Peace Cultural Centre is the recommended location for developing a new creative hub,” reads the report.
Key attributes include existing theatre, library, and art gallery programs, and the addition of a new creative hub “will further position this facility as the epicentre for the arts in Fort St. John and the surrounding region,” the report says.
“Located on the roof of the Library, this second floor addition is organized along a double loaded skylit corridor. Access to the creative hub would be through the NPCC Atrium Mezzanine and through a new elevator and stair access that fronts directly onto 100th Street.
"This concept envisions redeveloping the existing NPCC façades to incorporate the creative hub in a cohesive, modern aesthetic.”
Expanding the cultural centre is the most cost-effective solution in terms of operations, according to the report, however, “opening the building envelope to renovate carries some risk.”
Further study is needed to confirm the building can accommodate a second-floor addition and to determine if there are any hazardous materials that may need abatement. Additionally, a major renovation and addition to the existing facility could trigger code upgrades to the existing building.”
Option B - Stand-alone hub across from NPCC
“Conceived as an arts village with clear architectural expression, high vaulted ceilings, and exposed structure,” a new one-storey creative hub at 100 and 100 “could have a distinct architectural expression and identity of its own,” the report says.
Though there would be programming and operational synergies with the existing cultural centre across the street, the cost to develop and operate the site would be “significantly more” than building on existing infrastructure, according to the report.
“At the present time, the Arts Council does not have the organizational capacity to manage a stand-alone building,” the report says.
Option C - Stand-alone hub with residential towers
A third option — which may or may not be viable — would be a new ground-level creative hub supported with up to five towers and 75 units of new residential housing.
“Having residences above the creative hub could create extra traffic through the facility and support a lively, animated atmosphere,” the report says, and “artists could be drawn to Fort St. John, and downtown in particular, to live and create.”
There could be opportunities for public-private partnerships related to housing development, with revenues generated supporting the financial sustainability of the creative hub, the report notes.
However, this option would take the longest to develop, and the ongoing management of such a multi-use facility “could take away from the mandate” of the Arts Council, the report says.
“The capital and operational costs of the facility will be significant and could carry a significant amount of risk. Fort St. John has a weak rental market at the present time and has demonstrated a high degree of volatility historically, which is closely tied to the fortunes of the resource economy,” the report says.
“Significant further analysis is required to determine the feasibility of this option.”
None of the options have been chosen or finalized, and the Arts Council is continuing to present the completed feasibility study to local governments and councils in the coming weeks.
Several other major steps are still required, according to the report, including hosting a creative hub forum, striking a facility development committee, identifying and securing commitments from potential partners, and finalizing cost estimates and sourcing capital funding.
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