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Creative hub plan makes progress

Creative centre in Fort St. John would bring arts activities, residential living downtown

Representatives of the Fort St. John Arts Council appeared before city councillors on Monday to give an update on a visionary new creative arts facility for the downtown.

Plans for a creative hub were first unveiled last spring, and over the past year the arts council has been meeting with member groups about their needs, and with real estate firm Colliers on a proposed multi-storey build that would also include new commercial and residential housing.

“It seems to check all the boxes,” said vice-chair Margaret May. “It really seems to fit with proposals to revitalize the downtown.”

Because needs are so great, the arts council has expanded its search for a location from 100 Street and 100 Avenue, to bigger lots a block east and west; the former Sew it Yourself and Frontier Hotel lots at 100 Avenue and 102 Street, and the old hospital site on 100 Avenue.

“With discussions we’ve had with the different groups, and especially coming to the possible partnerships, we’re going to need at least two floors for the creative hub,” said arts council secretary Connie Surerus.

“We love the idea of a central location across from the North Peace Cultural Centre,” said May. “The bigger lots would allow more flexibility and a phased approach to build, and the need for underground parking is not as great.”

User groups that need space now and would make use of a new creative facility include the Potters’ Guild, Spinners & Weavers, Printmakers, and Painters.

But there are a lot of other wishes for the facility too, including studios for woodworking, metalworking, and blacksmithing, a recording studio, theatre rehearsal space, and a food safe kitchen, among others. The arts council is also eyeing a potential move of the gallery in North Peace Cultural Centre to the new facility, which could allow the library to expand, as well as potential space for a grocery store, a courtyard, and rooms for glass making and music.

Surerus said local arts groups have been particularly vulnerable when it comes to finding stable space to build and grow in over the years, challenged often by the swings in the economy.

“As arts group are offering classes and building membership, and providing more classes, they’re increasing revenues and their space needs, and can better afford to take over more of the creative hub,” Surerus said.

May used the potters as an example, which have grown from just a few independent artists with a kiln at home, to a strong guild housed in the ArtsPost on 94 Avenue that's bursting at the seams with members and waiting lists for classes.

“That can happen with a lot of groups,” said May. “If they have the space, if they have opportunity, the same thing can happen.”

Several potential community partners have expressed interest in an added housing component to the building, including School District 60, Northern Health, Northern Lights College, Community Living, Metis Nation, and the Salvation Army.

“All of them are interested in the creative side and the housing side,” said May.

“Talking to different groups… the big thing that came out was a real need for the housing. That especially came true with the school district,” said Surerus. “They’re interested in arts programs, but what they were then really interested in was looking for housing for new teachers coming to town.”

Colliers is being tasked to confirm the full scope and uses of the facility, including tenancy models, as well as a detailed cost to build and operate.

“It’s not enough to be able to build the place, we have to be able to sustain it going forward,” said May. “It just doesn’t end when you open the doors. We want it to be in the community for years and years to come.”

The arts council is hoping to have a building design and budget finalized, along with MOUs with partners in place, by the end of this year. It's already held an initial open house with arts groups, and wants to do another with downtown businesses.

The arts council says the city will be the project’s biggest partner in helping to secure the land to build, and helping the arts council leverage capital funding from organizations such as CMHC and Canadian Heritage.

“Next year would be the fundraising, applying for grants, where the funding is going to come from… If that goes well hopefully by spring of 2025 shovels in the ground,” said Surerus.

“It’s going to take effort. It’s not like this is just going to be handed to us,” she said. “It’s a great idea and I think we’re ready for it.”

Councillors were receptive to the arts council's presentation, saying a creative arts facility would showcase the downtown core. Coun. Trevor Bolin remarked that securing capital for the building won’t be an issue for the arts council; sustaining its ongoing operational costs will be the challenge.

City council passed a motion for city staff to bring back a report to further discuss, in a closed meeting, the viability of the facility and its partnership.

“This will definitely be a diamond in our downtown core,” said Mayor Lilia Hansen.

Fort St. John Arts Council - Creative Hub Progress Report by AlaskaHighwayNews on Scribd

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