New arts centre part of Regent Park’s revitalization

By RON FANFAIR

A new $37 million arts and cultural centre will be established in Regent Park as part of the community’s revitalization.

The federal and provincial governments have pledged $24 million to create the 68,000 square feet project on land donated by the city. The rest of the cost will be covered by local fundraising initiatives.

The centre is part of a 15-year re-development project to bring mixed-income housing, parks, stores, a world-class aquatic centre and social services to the downtown Toronto community.

“I think it’s going to be great for the area,” said former Regent Park Community Health Centre board president, Dr. Joan Lesmond. “Once fully developed, it will provide a diversion as another sphere of activity for the area residents. For far too long these people have been marginalized and stigmatized, so putting in much needed services will make a difference.”

The centre, expected to be completed by March 2011, will contain space for performances, rehearsals and events while incorporating a shared office “hub” for a number of community groups.

“There is so much urban renewal going on in this part of Toronto and the federal government wants to be part of it,” said Canada’s infrastructure minister, John Baird.

Ontario’s culture minister, Aileen Carroll, said the centre will contribute to the diverse cultural landscape of the entire city while celebrating the diverse social fabric of the community.”

Toronto Community Housing (TCH) is spearheading the 10-year, $15 billion revitalization project which mixes condominiums with public housing and targets myriad income groups.

“The arts and cultural centre, in the heart of the revitalized Regent Park, will be a place where people from all across the city can come together to celebrate the arts, artists and this vibrant and diverse neighbourhood,” said TCH acting chief executive officer, Keiko Nakamura. “It is an important part of Toronto Community Housing’s revitalization vision for Regent Park and we are proud to be supporting its realization along with the Daniels Corporation, our development partner and Artscape as the facility operator.”

Toronto Centre-Rosedale councilor Pam McConnell said the city would have been unable to fund the centre even though it was identified as a vital element of Regent Park’s renewal plan.

“This is the final piece, I think, of what we really needed,” she said. “A community is not about bricks and mortar, condos and social housing units. It is really about gathering places. This was the piece that was missing.”

MPP and mayoral candidate George Smitherman was the emcee at the event to announce the creation of the arts and cultural centre.

“What we are doing here in this area is demonstrating that cities with a good plan can be revitalized,” he said. “Arts and culture is one of those pieces of the social fabric, but also of the economic fabric in Toronto. If you are trying to revitalize a community, you have got to speak to its heart and you have also got to speak to its pocketbook, and I think this project does both of those things.”

Nine years ago, TCH held consultations with nearly 2,000 residents, neighbours and agencies who made it clear that arts and culture should play an important part in the community.

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