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Here’s what the $270-million expansion of Calgary’s Arts Commons will look like

Arts Commons will be upgraded and a new building constructed nearby to increase the capacity of the downtown arts and culture hub by nearly 45 per cent.

A 1,000-seat theatre as well as a 200-seat studio theatre were revealed as part of the first phase of the $660-million project on Thursday. They’ll be housed in the new structure.

The expansion and transformation includes a second phase — the modernization of the existing space that was built in 1985 and the overhaul of Olympic Plaza.

According to the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), which is spearheading the project, it’s the largest arts-focused infrastructure project underway in the country.

On the left is a rendering of the new 1,000-seat theatre in the expansion of Arts Commons, set up for a rock concert. On the right is a rendering of the same theatre in set to a flat floor configuration.
On the left is a rendering of the new 1,000-seat theatre in the expansion of Arts Commons, set up for a rock concert. On the right is a rendering of the same theatre set to a flat floor configuration. (CMLC)

“It’s more than just a building, it’s a campus,” said Kate Thompson, the CMLC’s chief executive officer.

“The Arts Commons expansion is part of a greater vision for Arts Commons and the adjacent redesign of the Olympic Plaza transformation.”

Brought to life by a group of internationally-recognized architects — including Toronto’s KPMB Architects, Calgary’s Hindle Architects and Arizona’s Tawaw Architecture Collective — the new building is a three-level, 162,000-square-foot structure that features a curved shape on the exterior.

The design was inspired by Alberta’s landscapes, the architects said. Elements of the interior include a skylight and a fully-transparent ground floor.

“This city has never failed to impress me with its fearless hopes for the future,” said Arts Commons president and CEO Alex Sarian.

“Today, we don’t just reveal a stunning new design, we come together to celebrate the fact that the largest cultural infrastructure project currently underway in Canada is truly and uniquely Calgarian.”

According to the City of Calgary, the two phases of construction will create 3,155 jobs and generate an estimated $239 million in labour income.

When it’s finalized, the city said, Arts Commons and the companies and organizations operating within its space are projected to contribute $53 million annually to Calgary’s gross domestic product while supporting more than 680 jobs.

The expansion building is fully funded by the city and CMLC’s community revitalization levy and is anticipated to cost $270 million.

“The Arts Commons transformation is at the heart of how we bring Calgary’s downtown to life with the creative economy,” said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“A thriving creative sector is essential to making the city more resilient and diverse, for both economic and community-building reasons.”

The builders and construction companies said they expected to break ground later this year, and the building is slated to open in time for the 2028-29 season at Arts Commons.

Events and programming in Olympic Plaza will be paused at the end of 2024 for the Arts Commons construction and plaza facelift.

Site preparations will include the relocation of the Famous Five sculpture in the plaza.

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