Arts Commons, Olympic Plaza transformation to receive $103 million from province

The overhauls will include a modernized and expanded Arts Commons and a total redesign of Olympic Plaza.

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The Alberta government is committing $103 million toward the overhauls of Arts Commons and Olympic Plaza — overlapping projects that Premier Danielle Smith said will help breathe new life into Calgary’s downtown, as well as Alberta’s arts scene.

The province’s contribution to revamp Calgary’s live theatre and arts hub will be spread out over seven years, with the majority of funds distributed in the next four-year budget cycle.

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“We’re investing in the revitalization of both spaces, but the transformation brings rewards that go well beyond the two physical sites,” Smith said during the funding announcement inside Arts Commons’ Max Bell Theatre.

“This project will benefit artists, audiences and ice skaters, but it will also create an even more vibrant downtown, attracting families, tourists and arts lovers of all stripes.”

The overhauls will include a modernized and expanded Arts Commons, and a total redesign of Olympic Plaza.

While the Alberta government’s 2024 budget only allocates $7.8 million toward the two projects between now and 2026, Arts, Culture and Status of Women Minister Tanya Fir noted the remaining $95 million will be included in future budgets.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith Arts Commons
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith speaks about $103 million in funding over seven years to support the Arts Commons and Olympic Plaza transformation project. The media event took place in the Max Bell Theatre in Arts Commons on Friday March 22, 2024. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Two projects’ combined budget totals $660 million

The total price tag for revamping Arts Commons and Olympic Plaza is estimated at $660 million — an increase from previous projections that pegged the projects’ cost at around $500 million.

The budget breakdown includes $610 million for the capital projects and a $50-million endowment to support Arts Commons’ long-term success.

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Alex Sarian, CEO of Arts Commons, said the organization has already raised $420 million through a combination of government funding and private sector donations.

Fundraising is ongoing, but Sarian said the city’s commitments mean the expansion phase of construction — with a budget of approximately $270 million — is fully financed.

“What we know is we’re looking at these two projects in consolidation,” he said. “The $270-million expansion is already fully funded. We know there’s a control budget for Olympic Plaza of $68 million and we’re working toward a similar budget of around $270 million for the renovation.

“We have mapped out our expenses for the entirety of the project in that order.”

Design work for the facility’s expansion will be unveiled next month, Sarian said, with shovels in the ground within the next year.

He added construction should last roughly four years, with the goal of completing the expansion phase by 2028-29.

“That project is being taken care of first for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is we want to have new venues and new facilities online by the time we start renovating this facility,” he said.

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Arts Commons CEO Alex Sarian
Arts Commons president and CEO Alex Sarian comments on the $103 million in provincial funding over seven years to support the Arts Commons and Olympic Plaza transformation project. The media event took place in the Max Bell Theatre in Arts Commons on Friday March 22, 2024. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Design not yet revealed for Olympic Plaza overhaul

Coinciding with Arts Commons’ transformation is a $68-million overhaul of the adjacent Olympic Plaza.

The design team for that project was revealed in November, and includes three landscape architecture and urban design firms from Ontario and Quebec: Toronto-based gh3*, Montreal’s CCxA and Belleville Placemaking.

With a $40-million budget to redesign the 35-year-old public plaza, the team will focus on placemaking, improved accessibility and adaptability.

Sarian said he hasn’t yet heard when the firms will unveil their design.

“We want the designs to speak to each other and we want the patron experience to flow seamlessly from one into the other,” he said.

“We want the design of the plaza to be able to accelerate so that we’re not leaving Calgarians fatigued with construction — particularly as we want to unveil a facility that flows seamlessly between indoor and outdoor.”

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Construction advocates welcome upcoming projects

The Calgary Construction Association applauded Friday’s announcement, citing the positive effect the upcoming capital projects will have on the local construction sector.

The multi-year projects are anticipated to create almost 3,500 full-time construction jobs and add $424 million in GDP to the provincial economy.

“The revitalization of Arts Commons and Olympic Plaza promises to enrich the cultural fabric of our Calgary, providing residents and visitors alike with enhanced facilities for artistic expression, performance and recreation,” Bill Black, president of the Calgary Construction Association, said in a statement.

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