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Burnaby mayor questions if new $55M theatre redevelopment a priority

Mayor Mike Hurley wonders if the city should slow down before proceeding on redeveloping the James Cowan Theatre at the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts.
Rendering for the new James Cowan Theatre at Burnaby's Shadbolt Centre for the Arts.

Burnaby staff are recommending a $52.3-million contract increase to redevelop a local theatre, but Mayor Mike Hurley is concerned about the timing.

The aging James Cowan Theatre at Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre for the Arts is slated for redevelopment that would include constructing a new four-storey structure and increasing the number of seats to 364 with a balcony.

Hurley questioned how the project stacked up against the city’s other major civic projects, like the Burnaby Lake Recreation Centre and Cameron Recreation Centre and Library. Many of those projects are facing significantly increased costs.

“It’s a matter of priorities, I guess, … especially when it’s related to community centres and the like,” he said at a financial management committee meeting Feb. 20.

Hurley asked if the city would “miss out” on other projects because of building the new theatre though said he thinks it is needed.

“We’re starting to be concerned about where the funds are all going to come from, given the provincial changes,” he said, referring to new rules ushered in by the province around civic development.

Hurley added he might want to “step back a little bit and maybe wait a couple of months,” before proceeding on the theatre project but recognized that might affect the construction contract that council will vote on Monday.

Hurley suggested council discuss the matter further then.

Staff are recommending council approve a contract increase to Ledcor Design-Build (BC) Inc. to complete the design and construction of the work, according to a report going to council Monday.

Staff said the total estimated contract value will be almost $55.4 million.

The report says the existing theatre, originally built in the 1940s, is “in need of significant upgrades, is past its useful life, and is not wheelchair accessible.”

The project includes art studios, a café and production offices, though no fly-tower or underground parking. The Shadbolt would remain operational during construction.

“The facility has been designed to meet the arts and cultural community’s space needs for the next 10 years,” said the report.

That might not sound like a long time, but James Lota, the city’s general manager of lands and facilities, said it doesn’t mean the new building will only last 10 years.

He told council at its meeting Feb. 26 staff expect the theatre to fill community needs for the next decade and beyond, but the city expects “larger and/or more facilities” to be needed as the city’s population grows.

This story has been updated to include remarks by James Lota, the city's general manager of lands and facilities