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Big dreams for small theatre

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Mykola (Nick) Kowalchuk, executive director of the Gas Station Arts Centre, in the current theatre with the future plans.

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Mykola (Nick) Kowalchuk, executive director of the Gas Station Arts Centre, in the current theatre with the future plans. Photo Store

The Gas Station Art Centre has big plans for some big changes come spring 2015.
Mykola (Nick) Kowalchuk, executive director of the Gas Station Arts Centre, said the aging building will need upgrades soon.

"The discussion happened to decide whether this is needed, and we believe it is," said Kowalchuk, 51. "This way by doing the upgrades, by doing this redevelopment, we would have more space, we would probably triple in size of the theatre space."

This means a rehearsal space, more storage, a larger stage with wing space (from 48-by-25-feet to 60-by-40-feet), and instead of the current 232 used seats there will be 300 brand-new ones. And that’s just the theatre.

It’s not a simple renovation. Kowalchuk said they plan on tearing down the existing building and creating a whole new complex, complete with commercial space and affordable housing.
The estimated budget for the project is $23 million, but with partners and selling air rights,  Kowalchuk said the theatre will only have to raise between $5 and $6 million.

"That will outfit our theatre portion and we will have tripled the space," Kowalchuk said. "Where if we were to renovate it would probably cost us in the $5 million range to get renovations done."

Kowalchuk said the plan is to sell the air rights above the theatre to build affordable housing.
"We would match Villa Cabrini next door," Kowalchuk said. "So we’d be going up about eight floors, and we’re looking at about 90 units."

On Jan. 26, the Gas Station Arts Centre hosted an open house and community meeting to present plans and possibilities for the redevelopment. Kowalchuk said the response was promising.

 "It was positive feedback," Kowalchuk said. "That we are considering all those principles of the neighborhood, that we are using like-minded partners, that we are looking to clean up the environment, that we are considering alternative transportation."

Kowalchuk said the next steps for the project are to organize plans and sign the papers with organizations such as the Grace Housing Co-op and Performing Arts Lodge.

"We’re all kind of on the same page but we have to seal the deal," Kowalchuk said. "We’re looking at affordable housing, so with that, the province is looking to establish affordable housing in the city. So with that, there are grants that are available and we would happily use those grants."

Kowalchuk said they considered moving the theatre to a whole new location altogether, but couldn’t leave the River and Osborne intersection.

"The theatre considered doing that 10 years ago and there was a revolt," Kowalchuk said. "It’s not even an option."

 For more information on the project, visit gsac.ca/home/initiatives

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