Arts centre drawings were just what the public needed



By Doug Herod (May 26, 2011)

Every once in a while, it’s nice to attend a feel-good event.

A happening where one can park his or her skepticism at the door and revel in what could be.

Such an occasion was this week’s look at early drawings for St. Catharines’ culture castle.

Truth be told, there wasn’t a lot of architectural detail provided. It was mostly floor plans and massing schematics.

Still, the slide show and commentary given by Diamond and Schmitt architect Gary McCluskie provided sufficient fodder to get the citizenry excited about the downtown’s future.

The evening was labelled as an opportunity for residents to provide feedback on the preliminary blueprints. The labelling was probably a stretch.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen on paying internationally renowned arts centre architects millions of dollars to design a building and then have a group of Rockwood Ave. residents advise them about where to put the coat racks.

The bar, maybe.

No, the more logical reason for the open house was simply to keep the project in the public’s consciousness. Nothing wrong with that. This is a long process, with considerable gaps in boffo moments.

There was the consultant’s report in late 2008 that propelled the project forward, and then the bombshell news conference in the spring of 2009 that revealed upper levels of government would be kicking in $36 million for the centre.

Since then, not much.

So, yeah, show us some pictures every chance you get. Construction isn’t likely to start for another year, thus the ongoing need for periodic jolts.

While the plans Wednesday had a back-of-a-cocktail-napkin feel to them, they did conjure up a vision of St. Paul not realized since A Hard Day’s Night played at the old Palace Theatre in the summer of ’64.

No final decision has been made on the design or size of the centre’s lobby, but that doesn’t matter at this point. More important for the community psyche is the ability to now imagine a brightly lit, two-storey, glassed-in lobby full of people that’s entirely visible from the street.

Architect McCluskie also chatted up the possibility of designing a signature feature for the St. Paul/Carlisle corner, whether it be an eye-catching marquee or some sort of lighting treatment.

Egads, he even suggested interesting landscaping or terracing for the current alleyway/weed farm between the rear of St. Paul and the Canada Hair Cloth building.

Wait. There’s more. Perhaps a small amphitheatre could be created in that corridor for outdoor performances.

The bad news is that this possibility is three years away from being accomplished. The good news is that should be enough time to clean up the litter there.

Speaking of the Canada Hair Cloth, this week’s buzz was generated without even taking into consideration the equally exciting Brock University co-project. Work on the preliminary schematics for its school of fine and performing arts is lagging slightly behind the art centre’s design, but pictures of some sort should be ready for public perusal within a few weeks.

There was one slightly disorienting moment at Wednesday’s session. That’s when McCluskey waxed poetic about the uniqueness of the rear St. Paul St. building facades that look out to the old canal valley.

An uneasiness came over the crowd at the Dunlop Drive Seniors Centre as it wondered where the architect was going with this.

The potential for more angst arose when a slide was shown of one of the rear additions jutting out over the ridge and supported by exposed steel girders.

Fortunately, as McCluskie expressed delight at this, um, distinct look, the audience chuckled as one.

In other words, don’t look for public feedback that suggests a section of the arts centre be on stilts and clad in vinyl siding.

Yet another feel-good moment from the evening.

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