Burlington Performing Arts Centre does it up right with a Gala to be remembered.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  December 5, 2010  Whew! – That’s the sound from the staff at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre as they recover from a hectic week that saw Gordie Tapp take to the stage and the Prime Minister of Canada meet with the Burlington Teen Tour Band. Then have his picture taken with more than 50 dignitaries and on Saturday evening, pull off a Gala event with international class entertainment on the Main Theatre stage.  The Family Room turned into an enchanting place wrapped in a blue glow that saw not only Sarah McLaughlin rule the stage, but a pair of acrobats come out of nowhere to delight the close to 700 people in the place.  The really neat Jazz Quartet sounded great but most of the audience didn’t seem to take to them all that well.

It was the last of the “soft opening” schedule the Centre put on to get the $40 million place opened up, operational and running smoothly.

Cogeco Cable treated the event as a major community special and had their two lead Burlington reporters on hand for the event. Deb Tymstra and Mark Carr did basically end to end coverage. Here Mayor Goldring waits to go "on camera".

Cogeco Cable made it a big event with five camera crews, 14 people and the mobile at the back of the building broadcasting the whole event live.

This was an event that was perhaps as big an event as the Centre will see in the next 12 to 18 months.  Sarah McLaughlin cost close to a King’s ransom and the two acts that were put on during the lead up time in the Family Room were not cheap but it did show that the people who run the Centre know how to do it right.  The Prime Minister in his remarks on the Friday talked of culture and the arts being a vital part of every growing community and something the federal government supports with funding programs.

Burlington has opened a new centre while Toronto is looking for a way to get rid of several city owned entertainment venues that are seen there as an expense rather than a revenue generator for the city.

Few restaurants in the city have yet to take up the idea of putting together packages that allow guests to get in for dinner and still make it to a performance and then serve as a spot where people gather after an event.  One restaurant, literally across the street from the Centre, didn’t appear to even be open on Saturday.

The net worth of the people in the Centre Saturday was more than it cost to build the place and they were certainly making the best of the opportunity to meet and greet one another.  Our Mayor was out there meeting new people, chatting up those he already knew.  City Council was not out in full force.  Marianne Meed Ward was there as was Rick Craven of Ward 2 accompanying his daughter who looked absolutely lovely.

BPAC executive Director Brenda Heatherington would make the cover of Vogue magazine with this dress. This was her night which she celebrated with 700 of the most important people in town.

Executive Director Brenda Heatherington was divine in a full length emerald green gown with her hair swept up giving her a Vogue magazine look many would envy.

The Family Room at the BPAC had a bit of a Winter Wonderlude look to it as 700 people congregated to socialize and get caught up with friends before watching Sarah McLaughlin take to the stage.

Burlington is one of a number of cities that have built cultural venues in their downtown cores and now need to find the right formula to operate the buildings with a subsidy their city coffers can afford.  Hamilton has lost millions on their HECFI operation which recently went through a brutal management shakeup.  Burlington expects a much better experience than Hamilton has had and most believe the city has the right staff team in place to make it all come together financially and at the same time put on events that work for the people who live here.

The Christmas Nut Cracker Suite is sold out – they probably could have added an additional performance.  The Vinyl Café (that CBC program that takes to the road with Stuart Maclean telling the ups and down of Dave, his wife Morley, their two children, Sam and Stephanie and assorted friends and neighbours) – added a performance to the schedule and is still sold out.

Small cultural groups in the city rent the space and they are finding that the appetite for their offerings is strong.  Jacob Moon, who has a big following, is back for a second performance in the Community Studio Theatre.

While Toronto and its Mayor create a task force to look into a fire sale of three city-owned theatres, officials in at least six municipalities in the province have opened or will soon open theatres they hope will improve the economic prospects of their downtown’s and provide a cultural rejuvenation as well.

Brampton, Richmond Hill, Barrie, Cambridge and St. Catharine’s have either approved new projects or are, like Burlington, now in full operational mode.

This flow of public money created jobs and, as the Globe and Mail put it, provided comfortable seats for the comfortable classes.  The $400 price tag for the Burlington Gala certainly proved that statement.

Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring says studies indicated local and regional economies would see significant economic spin-off,  with the expected money spent on transportation, dining, drinking, accommodation, shopping and nearby attractions. Locating the theatre downtown and within walking distance of other businesses was always central to the plan, he says.

While the dollars and cents part of the Centre is critical what so far seems to be working for Burlington is a certain buzz about the place. As Goldring said to a reporter: “We are competing with the whole of the GTA as a place to live, work and locate businesses. It’s been proven that businesses are attracted to communities where people want to live. Culture, health care and education are the three most important factors for people deciding where to live”.

Deb Tymstra, entertainment and arts reporter for Cogeco Cable looks out over the Family Room with Allan Pearson, Chair of the BPAC Board. It was an especially big night for Tymstra who was involved with the development of the Centre since its very beginning.

In the past 18 months Burlington has added the McMaster DeGroote School of Business and now the Performing Arts Centre to the horizon.  Serious thinking is about to be given to finding some way to build prime office space above the parking lots on lower Brant and John Streets.

Gary McCluskie, a principal at Toronto’s Diamond and Schmitt Architects designed the theatres in Burlington, Cambridge and St. Catharines, and had a hand in Toronto’s own Four Seasons opera house, says each of the new halls strives to both add to and draw from street life on the sidewalk by featuring expansive windows that try to bring large lobbies out onto the sidewalk, and vice versa. “The arts are about building and binding communities, so we made the buildings engaging and inviting,” said  McCluskie in a news report.

By using windows instead of walls, McCluskie hopes to open up events that have had a reputation for exclusivity since Europe’s grand opera houses went up, brick by brick. “We have highlighted the sense of occasion, and used it as a draw,” says McCluskie.

The firm Diamond and Schmitt Architects, has done a lot of work in Burlington.  They were heavily involved in the development of the Spencer Smith Park and have put together many of the ideas for the development of rejuvenation of the Beachway Park that is now back in the limelight.

Burlington’s  performing arts centre staff hope they can create the kind of business that Richmond Hill is experiencing where Michael Grit has been theatre manager at that city’s Centre for the Performing Arts since it opened on Yonge Street in 2009. Grit says: “Our schedule is insane. I turn away more business than I book. We have only twelve dark days for the first six months of 2012. I’m already booking dates in 2016.”

BPAC staff must surely like words like that.



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