Rendering of amphitheatre from 2007, looking south. Note the expanded theatre concept to the east of the existing theatre. (Courtesy Proscenium Architects)
Guest Blog by Doug Matthews
President, Evergreen Cultural Centre Society
As readers may know, the Evergreen Cultural Centre Society has been advocating for several years for a larger theatre to accommodate our growing programming and audiences, and in keeping with making the southwest corner of Lafarge Lake a “cultural precinct.” Here, for the public record, is a little bit of recent history.
With Coquitlam growing at an unprecedented rate beginning in the last half of the 1990s, we as a board used our 10th anniversary in 2006 to take a fresh look at what the community wanted out of the cultural centre. Two studies were initiated with the blessing of City Council who in turn gave us grants to complete the studies.
In the spring of 2007, a feasibility study was completed by Lamont Management which examined several options for the future, including: an expanded theatre (which was part of the original plans for the ECC at the time of its inauguration in 1996—and indeed the present theatre incorporates the necessary infrastructure for such an expansion); the installation of an aquascreen attraction in Lafarge Lake (under the jurisdiction of ECC); the construction of an amphitheatre on the west side of Lafarge Lake (under the jurisdiction of ECC); and renovations for the Innovation Centre to make it part of the existing theatre complex. The overwhelming, unanimous result of the study was that the ECC should plan for an expanded theatre of 750 seats, to be built within the next six years, by 2014. The Lamont Management study also recommended that we should plan to increase programming and other forms of space usage in the centre to take us to a point of “bursting at the seams.” As a result, the ECCS Board of Directors embarked on the creation of Vision and Mission statements, a Strategic Plan, and a short and long-term Business Plan that would lead to that goal. In the next year, because of the support for a new theatre and as part of the 2008 budget, the Society further requested and received a $50,000 grant from the City of Coquitlam to study a conceptual design and provide initial architectural renderings of an expanded/new theatre.
What was the result of these studies and what has happened in general around the “cultural precinct” since 2008? Let’s take a look.
Architectural renderings and development costs were presented to City Council at the conclusion of both the feasibility study and the design study. See below for what they looked like. Most importantly, this cost for the “iconically designed” new theatre was put at a minimum of $30 million.
Even with the study results, we were never given any signal to proceed with further planning for a new theatre. We can only assume that this was for a number of reasons, none of which we were privy to, but no doubt including: other more pressing demands for capital investment, lack of sufficient proof that such a costly new venue was required at that time, new competing venues recently built in the Tri-Cities (Terry Fox High School Theatre in Port Coquitlam, Inlet Theatre in Port Moody, Red Robinson Theatre in Coquitlam, ACT in Maple Ridge), and unknown routing of the new Skytrain line.
Innovation Centre renovations as presented were not approved although there is still a potential for some redesign and re-use since this and other city-owned buildings (including ECC) are currently (2018) under review by the city as to their future use.
An aquascreen probably was never in the cards as it is technologically complex and expensive, although a great tourist draw; however, somewhere along the way City Council approved the installation of a fountain in Lafarge Lake. We would like to think it might have been partly the result of our many presentations to them.
An amphitheatre was constructed on the east rather than west side of Lafarge Lake in 2016. What inspired this we may never know but would again like to think that it may have been partly the result of our presentations and suggestions. Its programming, however, comes under the jurisdiction of city staff and not ECC staff.
The Skytrain has come to the city centre with all its pros and cons, and goes through the lobby of what would have been that new theatre.
Most importantly for us, thanks to much hard work by staff since 2008, the ECC is finally “bursting at the seams” to the extent that we now turn away a great many rental requests each month worth thousands of dollars. At the same time, programming in the theatre is virtually at full capacity.
So where are we now? We have always believed—and continue to believe—that an arts complex should be considered as the anchor to a “cultural precinct” on the southwest corner of Lafarge Lake. This is undeniably the most beautiful location for an arts centre in the entire lower mainland and every opportunity should be taken to capitalize on it, even to the extent of making it a destination.
We believe the time is ripe for expansion. The population of Coquitlam has increased sufficiently to sustain a larger theatre, although we now believe that such a theatre is better suited for this population at a capacity of 500. The ideal arts complex would incorporate both a new or expanded theatre and the current Innovation Centre. Such a complex would provide space for larger performing arts productions that are more of a draw for patrons. It would provide a larger gallery space for visual arts that could be more physically accessible to the public and open more of the time. Finally, it would provide additional space for the many groups wanting to rent, and whom we are now turning away. Considering where the Skytrain is located, the new or expanded theatre building would probably best be located to the east of the existing theatre, so that all three buildings would form a large integrated complex.
At least we are on the radar of the city. In 2017 the city completed an Arts and Culture Master Plan and a new theatre was placed on a list for future capital development in the time frame of about 10 years in the future. In addition, in 2018 a study is being completed for the city on what the needs are of all arts facilities owned by the city including the Evergreen Cultural Centre. We hope that we will be deemed worthy of expansion.